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Demanding change for our profession

Pat Cullen 7 Apr 2022 Chief Executive and General Secretary

RCN Interim General Secretary and Chief Executive, Pat Cullen, updates members on RCN work to influence governments across the UK and how we’re shaping nursing in the UK and internationally.

As part of your commitment to strengthening the nursing profession globally, we re-joined the International Council of Nurses this month following a vote of members. This Tuesday, I was delighted to welcome two colleagues from the Norwegian Nurses Association to RCN HQ in London. We shared our respective experiences of COVID-19 and the workforce challenges both countries continue to face. I was struck by the way they keep an international solidarity fund for global crises, which is something I’m sure our International Committee will consider. We discussed our shared membership of a number of international alliances and the importance of working in partnership across Europe and globally. The profile and necessity of our profession has never been greater, and it is so important to work with others across the world to promote our profession and strengthen our reach and impact.

In the middle of the week, I spent time with staff from across the UK setting our strategy to influence and shape nurse staffing. For me, it’s simply about getting the right number of staff, with the right skills, in the right place, at the right time. In coming weeks - led by our Professional Nursing Committee and members from across the College - we will be conducting a thorough national and international research project to identify gaps in nursing workforce planning. We will be bold in setting standards that work for all roles in all clinical settings - be it through planning tools, legislative asks, ranges and ratios of staff to patients.

This week, the UK government’s national insurance (NI) rise came into force. This increase in NI contributions is earmarked to increase funding for health and social care – however, this rise and spiralling cost of living will leave nursing staff hundreds of pounds worse off a year. Given the contribution nursing staff made during the pandemic, being asked to fund the recovery of the health and care system you’ve kept running is galling.

Funding our health and social care system is a political choice. Governments across the UK can choose to pay nursing staff fairly or vacancy rates will grow and patient care will suffer. We are demanding a pay award of 5% above inflation from governments across the UK – only with this award will nursing be properly respected and valued.

Today we’ve launched our RCN manifesto for the Northern Ireland Assembly elections taking place on 5 May. The manifesto sets out our priorities to fix long-standing problems to the health and social care system in Northern Ireland. These include measures to recruit and retain the nursing staff needed to provide safe and effective care; fair pay, reward and career progression; and enabling nurses to play a leading role in the rebuilding and transformation of services.

And in Scotland, we recently held a political roundtable event on valuing nursing, chaired by our President, Dr Denise Chaffer. Members met the Cabinet Secretary of Health and Social Care, key opposition MSPs and Scotland’s Chief Nursing Officer and shared their diverse experiences of working through the pandemic. They raised their concerns for patient safety, the wellbeing of staff, and the changes needed to ensure Scotland has the nursing workforce it needs. Ahead of this, we published The Nursing Workforce in Scotland report.

A big thank you to everyone from across the UK who has signed our Welsh #ForTheFullTeam petition to extend section 25B of the Nurse Staffing Levels Act (Wales) 2016. If you haven’t done so already, please do sign and share with others and help us reach 10,000 signatures.

And in England, as COVID-19 cases continue to rise with nursing staff we’ve written to NHS England alongside the British Medical Association to call for a continuation of the weekly data that gives us a real-time understanding of the issues facing our members.

Last, but by no means least, today is World Health Day and a time to reflect on nursing’s fundamental link to the health of our populations and our planet. We know climate change is a health emergency that undermines the foundations of good health and deepens inequalities for the world’s most vulnerable communities. Nurses and midwives account for nearly half the global health care workforce and we have a unique role in improving public health and in driving forward the UN Sustainable Development Goals and achieving health coverage for all. You can read the report we published last year on how nursing is contributing to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals and better health for all.


Pat Cullen

Pat Cullen

General Secretary and Chief Executive

Pat has worked at the RCN since 2016. Before being appointed General Secretary and Chief Executive, Pat was Director of RCN Northern Ireland from May 2019 to April 2021.

Page last updated - 07/04/2022