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Showcasing the contribution of nursing on International Nurses’ Day

Dr Denise Chaffer 13 May 2022 RCN President

Dr Denise Chaffer, RCN President, updates members on activity across the UK and internationally for Nurses’ Day and work since re-joining the International Council of Nurses.

Yesterday, we celebrated International Nurses’ Day – and many of you took to social media to share your experiences of the #BestOfNursing. We marked the day by showcasing some examples of work of nursing staff in a variety of roles from across the UK, illustrating the role of nursing staff in delivering highly skilled, safety-critical care to patients. Watch our film to find out more.

Nurses’ Day is a time to focus on the role and impact of nursing across the globe. The RCN is committed to advancing and strengthening the nursing profession internationally - we re-joined the International Council of Nurses (a federation of more than 130 nursing organisations representing 28 million nurse world-wide) in April 2022. We are keen to identify the opportunities and areas of alignment between our work and ICN priorities to maximise our contribution to developing and promoting nursing internationally.

The RCN’s membership of ICN gives us the opportunity to work collaboratively to strengthen the profile of our profession, both in the UK and internationally. Hear more in our recent RCN Nursing Matters podcast.

The ICN incorporates both the professional and trade union aspects of nursing with its aim of being ‘Stronger together’ in representing nursing worldwide – this includes advancing the nursing profession, promoting the wellbeing of nurses, and advocating for health in all policies. As a global nursing community the ICN recognises, supports, and invests in nurses and nursing to lead and deliver health for all – by committing to ensuring sound health policies globally, the advancement of nursing knowledge, the presence worldwide of a competent and satisfied nursing workforce and nursing as an internationally respected profession. The RCN shares these ambitions, and as a re-joined member of ICN, supports these calls for positive change.

Humanitarian response - Nurses for peace

In March, the ICN launched their #NursesforPeace campaign to call for peace, condemn attacks on healthcare, and support nurses on the frontlines. The ICN is collecting donations to support nurses and humanitarian efforts in Ukraine, and they are working to ensure donations reach them via trusted partners as quickly as possible. This includes neighbouring countries which have welcomed refugees from Ukraine.

The ICN Humanitarian Fund was set up in 2010 following the devastating earthquake in Haiti. Since then, it has supported nurses in many countries, including Lebanon, Sri Lanka, and the Bahamas for locally identified needs such as material, food, rehabilitation or rehousing. The Fund also supports disaster preparedness and management workshops.

In recognition of the need to be more in support of both the profession of nursing and the populations our profession serves globally, the RCN International Committee is supporting the RCN Council in developing a framework to support the RCN to be more responsive to humanitarian crisis across the world, and ensure equitable, inclusive and effective responses when these crises arise, wherever they may be. This work stream is being led by Professor Judith Ellis MBE.

The situation in Ukraine in particular was a priority discussion at the recent RCN Council meeting and there was strong and unanimous support for the RCN to provide financial assistance. Your elected members on Council are determined to give greater focus to humanitarian causes around the world and the framework in development will drive that new agenda for us.

The ICN workforce forum

The ICN workforce forum brings together national nursing association members globally within the ICN to focus on improvements needed to address nursing terms and conditions, to campaign in areas such as fair pay, safe staffing, effective provision of PPE, and increased access to vaccination for all. The RCN International Committee will be working very closely with the RCN Trade Union Committee, the RCN Professional Nursing Committee and the ICN in these areas.

Global nursing shortage

A recent ICN publication on the global nursing shortage has added to the weight of the voice of the nursing profession globally, amplifying consistent calls in many countries around the world and highlighting the scale of nursing shortages worldwide. Prior to the pandemic, this gap was estimated at 5.9 million, with the potential to increase to up to 7 million worldwide. The report also highlighted the risk of over-reliance on international recruitment as a solution to address nursing shortages within countries, and the need to urgently focus on alternatives approaches to recruit and retain nurses.

This week the RCN virtually attended the 9th Triad meeting of the World Health Organisation (WHO), International Council of Nurses (ICN), and International Confederation of Midwives (ICM). I attended on behalf of the RCN alongside Pat Cullen, RCN Country Directors and other staff. The conference brought together national nursing associations, regulators, and policy makers from across the world to discuss priorities to advance the role of nurses and midwives globally. This year’s conference focussed on the Global Strategic Directions for Nursing and Midwifery, which sets out actions to enable nurses and midwives to optimally contribute to achieving universal health coverage and population health goals. The conference highlighted the scale of the critical shortage of nurses worldwide, the need for more robust data on nursing and midwifery, and shared best-practice examples of how nursing and midwifery leaders are advancing the strategic directions in their own countries.

Ethical recruitment and support for overseas nursing workforce

The RCN International Committee are further developing an RCN framework on assurance regarding ethical recruitment of international nursing workforce, which reflects the current context of the critical nursing shortages worldwide and seeks to ensure ethical practices which underpin recruitment practice, both domestically and abroad. This work is being led by Sue Campbell and members of the International Committee will also be working closely with RCN Trade Union and RCN Professional Nursing Committee, reporting to RCN Council.

Closely linked to this is the work being led by the RCN International Committee focusing on nursing diaspora in the UK to improve the support for overseas nurses working within the UK. There are many examples of discrimination this group of nurses' experiences - ranging from exploitative employment practices, lack of job opportunities and promotion as well as incivility, bullying and being frequently disproportionately overrepresented in disciplinary processes. This work stream is being led by Felicia Kwaku OBE and will work very closely across the RCN and with the RCN Trade Union and Professional Nursing Committees.

Pandemic response

The ICN has published a range of case studieswhich reflects the work of nurses globally who have cared for those with COVID-19 throughout the pandemic, as well as the wide range of nursing leadership and expertise that has continued throughout the pandemic to care for those with other conditions who needed urgent and effective intervention, treatment and support. There is so much for us to learn and reflect on how we can prepare for future pandemics, both within the UK and globally.

ICN position statement on Nurses, climate change and health

The ICN has also published a position statement on climate change which as presenting the single largest threat to global development with the potential to undermine the past 50 years of public health gains. The ICN states how ‘nurses can make a powerful contribution to both mitigate climate change and to support people and communities around the world to adapt to its impacts. …… This includes, but is not limited to, developing models of care to reduce unnecessary travel, developing climate-informed health programmes for emerging infectious and communicable diseases; engaging in sustainable practices in the health sector, building the response capacity of the health workforce; engaging in health and climate research, and participating in intersectoral policy and governance responses.’

The position is very much supported by the RCN, aligning with our own position, highlighting the responsibilities we all have, and recognising the scale of waste that is generated in health care across the UK, and opportunities to change this to positive effect. We recently marked Glove Awareness Week which highlighted how making at least one change to reduce unnecessary glove use can help make health care more sustainable.

Global Leadership institute

The ICN holds a Nursing Leadership Institute (GNLI) which is a policy leadership programme focused on strengthening political and policy influence. In GNLILI 2022, the programmes focused on health disparities, gender equality, and the COVID-19 local, regional, national and global policy discussions and actions. The GNLI 2022 programme features opportunities for collaborations with WHO Regional Offices. The RCN also has programmes to develop nursing leadership, find out more on our website.

Links with WHO and other international alliances

Together with the ICN, the RCN will work closely with the World Health Organisation (WHO) and other international institutions and alliances to influence policy and practice, as well as to campaign on key areas and promote global population health and well-being.

The RCN’s re-joining of the ICN gives us the opportunity to agree objectives and priorities to both benefit RCN members in the many settings they work as well as opportunities to learn from other countries - which includes those that have made significant progress in improving working conditions for nurses, sharing examples of best practice, learning from others in advancing nursing practice, research and gaining understanding of health care systems across the world.

Setting and delivering these objectives will be overseen by the RCN International Committee. As part of this, the RCN International Committee will work closely with RCN Professional Nursing Committee and RCN Trade Union Committee, and across the RCN - reporting regularly to RCN Council, sharing updates at RCN Congress as well as at RCN events across the UK, and to our membership more widely.

Please get in contact if you would be interested in supporting any of the RCN International Committee workstreams I have detailed.

I look forward to meeting many more of you over the coming weeks, as we look ahead to Congress – there is still time to book to join us in Glasgow.  And as ever, thank you for your continued professionalism, expertise, skill and commitment in the challenging circumstances you continue to find yourselves working through.

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 - 13/05/2022