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It has never been more important to value our nursing staff

Dr Denise Chaffer 22 Oct 2021 RCN President

Dr Denise Chaffer reflects on the value of nursing staff and the work that nurses and health care support workers do every day.

I’ve been reflecting on the value of nursing staff and the work that nurses and health care support workers do every day that makes such a difference to those the people we care for. 

Very recently I have had first-hand experience with end of life care following the death of a very close relative. This brought us into contact with a range of community health care services.  Practice nurses, community nurses and home care services who delivered highly skilled and compassionate care. Staff from the 111 service and also paramedics who responded to emergencies as well. Heart failure nurse specialists who provided skilled care in the community and care home services and the palliative care team who were so supportive with end-of-life care. 

I particularly want to acknowledge and thank those staff for going the extra mile in providing that care. It means so much to a vulnerable elderly patient, and their family, to have a community nurse visit at 11pm, for a second time in a day, to change leg dressings and to stay with the patient after a fall for several hours until paramedics can arrive. I would like to give credit to those working in social care - how a senior carer in a care home manages end of life care with complete professionalism supported by the wider community nursing team, and how one particular palliative care nurse sought out the patient’s GP and personally delivered essential medicines so they were not missed. 

The extent that nurses and all health care staff touch the lives of their patients is far-reaching - the number of contacts for just one patient were numerous and the level of compassion, kindness and expertise was consistently high.  These nursing staff have ever increasing caseloads yet still approach their work with a commitment to provide high standards of care, despite a backdrop of ever-increasing pressures – staffing shortages and increasing patient caseloads, further compounded by the recent petrol shortages.

Many of us are also patients, relatives and carers in receipt of health care across the UK. And these experiences give the opportunity to both acknowledge the value of high-quality nursing and also reflect on how we can best influence investment in services which make such a difference to the lives of our patients. 

As President, I have the opportunity to celebrate many of the outstanding people working within nursing and their contribution to nursing care throughout the UK. In September, I was invited to the unveiling of the Windrush Commonwealth Nurses and Midwives statue at The Whittington Hospital by the Nubian Jak Community Trust, and to the launch of the book Nursing a Nation which acknowledges and celebrates the contribution of the Windrush generation to the NHS. 

Alongside Chair of Council Carol Popplestone, I attended a panel discussion on the role of leadership in nursing hosted by Prostate Cancer UK. Carol spoke of her role as a Clinical Nurse Specialist in urology and the role of nursing leadership during the pandemic.  

Two weeks ago, I was invited to speak at our twice-yearly RCN Reps conference. I expressed my heartfelt thanks for all the work our reps do, alongside their own busy nursing roles and clinical pressures to support their colleagues, especially during the pandemic. The conference agenda was full and provided lots of opportunity for reps to discuss the key issues facing nursing. The RCN also launched a new publication at the conference which showcases inspirational stories of reps who have gone the extra mile and illustrates the incredibly important role our reps fulfil and the impact they have on those they support. 

And last week, I attended the RCN Awards which is our annual event to celebrate and recognise the commitment, compassion, and clinical excellence of the entire nursing team. This online and in-person award ceremony hosted by Kate Garraway was an immensely positive event and chance to reflect on what nursing is and the value of what we do. I’d like to offer my thanks again to all the nominees and winners – you deserve this recognition for your contribution to nursing care. 

The need to recognise the value of the nursing workforce has never been more important. Valuing our workforce requires managers, employers, policy makers and governments to tackle the causes of staffing pressures. It requires investment in the nursing workforce, fair pay, training and development, as well as addressing workplace incivility, bullying and discrimination that leads to many staff taking the decision to leave or retire.

Employers must also ensure all staff work within environments that have embedded just and fair learning cultures, and are open to working together with staff to achieve this. The RCN will continue to demand governments across the UK recognise and value our safety-critical profession and I’d urge all of you who are eligible to take part in the NHS pay indicative ballots in Scotland, Wales and England and tell us what action you are willing to take.

Finally, a reminder that the independent review by Bruce Carr QC is continuing. The RCN is committed to change and improvement in response to concerns raised by members over the last few months. Members have until 31 October to engage with the review – read more on our website. We are also conducting a wider comprehensive review into the governance of the RCN and more details are available on our website.

Our nursing workforce is made up of hundreds of thousands of skilled, educated professionals working to provide safety-critical care to patients and service users across the UK. As we move into winter, your contribution will become even more vital, demonstrating once again the urgent need for nursing staff to be properly valued.

Further information 

Reps in the time of COVID publication
RCN Award winners 
Winter Wellbeing 
Fair Pay for Nursing
Staffing for Safe and Effective Care 
Independent review into the organisational culture of the RCN
RCN governance review 

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 - 22/10/2021