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Our role in advocating for patients globally

Dr Denise Chaffer 10 Dec 2021 RCN President

RCN President, Dr Denise Chaffer, explains how nursing and midwifery staff are central to achieving global access to health care services

This Sunday 12 December marks Universal Health Coverage (UHC) Day. Given the essential role of nursing for achieving universal health coverage, UHC Day is an opportunity to reflect on the immense contribution of nursing staff in the UK and across the world to the populations they serve. 

UHC Day seeks to rally global support among organisations, governments and policy makers across the world to come together and work to ensure that everyone, everywhere can access the healthcare they need without experiencing financial hardship. The theme of this year’s UHC day is to ‘leave no one’s health behind’. This is also a central principle of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

As we live through the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic it is more important than ever that everyone can access the health care they need, and that political leaders are held accountable for ensuring no one is excluded from COVID-19 response and recovery strategies. 

Nurses and midwives account for nearly half the global health workforce, and our profession is critical in delivering equitable high quality health care services and driving global progress on UHC and the SDGs. 

Earlier this year we published a report showcasing the incredible contribution of our members to achieving the SDGs in the UK. Our members’ work spans all communities and settings, across all parts of the UK, with people of all ages, within and alongside a diverse range of employers and organisations. And our report demonstrated the unique role nursing staff have in identifying barriers to access, addressing gaps in service provision, and reducing health inequalities.

There has been notable progress in international policy for nursing staff in 2021. The World Health Assembly included the first Resolution on nursing and midwifery in ten years; the World Health Organization (WHO) published the updated Global Strategic Directions on Nursing and Midwifery 2021-2025, and the WHO Regional Office for Europe will today (Friday 10 December) launch their Regional Roadmap for achieving the strategic directions.

These are welcome steps forward for promoting the expertise and leadership of nursing staff across the world. But achieving universal health coverage requires an educated, supported and resourced health and care workforce, equitably distributed to ensure that all people and communities can access high-quality health and care services. In the UK – and across the world – big challenges remain to achieving this. 

In the UK, shortages of registered nurses and high numbers of vacant posts compromise the safety and quality of care that patients receive, and impact on health outcomes for patients. There are also significant and growing health inequalities in the UK, which the COVID-19 pandemic has exposed and amplified. 

Globally, the number and distribution of nurses is not anywhere near enough to achieve the SDGs and universal health coverage. Worldwide there is a shortage of 5.9 million nurses and shortages are predominantly (89%) in low and lower-middle income countries. 

Nursing is a global profession. It is vital that the RCN continue to work with our partners across the world to help solve global health problems. The RCN is committed to international partnership, and following the vote taken at the RCN AGM to re-join the International Council of Nurses, is progressing the next steps.

As we move into 2022, we will continue to promote the expertise of UK nursing on the global stage, to deliver better health outcomes in the UK and across the world, and help to ensure universal health coverage can one day become a reality, for all.

Dr Denise Chaffer

Dr Denise Chaffer


Denise has been President of the RCN since July 2021 and is currently the Director of Safety and Learning for the NHS Resolution (formally known as NHSLA).

Page last updated - 10/05/2022