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Keeping nursing staff safe at work

Pat Cullen 21 May 2021 Chief Executive and General Secretary

Pat Cullen, Acting General Secretary and Chief Executive, explains how the RCN continues to lobby employers and UK governments to keep members safe at work.

This week, I attended the first Organizing for Power session, joining closer to a thousand RCN members from across the UK and attendees from across the globe. Over the next five weeks, members will learn strategies to support us to build collective power in our workplaces and communities - to address the issues that continue to impact our profession and our patients. 

But organising for collective action happens at many levels, in many different ways. The RCN is also leading a coalition of health experts demanding the UK Government act now to improve ventilation and provide adequate PPE in all care settings as standard to protect you at work. The threat of new variants is very real– so your safety must be a key priority for employers and governments across the UK.  

Today, we released our new report into sharps injuries based on findings from our member survey, which found that pressures of the COVID-19 pandemic and a lack of training has resulted in a 50% rise in injuries. You told us fatigue induced by the pandemic, low staffing levels, lack of training, and safer sharps and sharps bins not being available, had resulted in this increase in injuries. 

Employers have a legal requirement to take steps to prevent you from being exposed to infectious agents from sharps injuries, and that all nursing staff who work with sharps should have training in how to use them safely. Our report makes a number of recommendations, including that all organisations annually review their sharps injuries data and prevention policies. 

And for our members working in the community, we have shared a new advice guide outlining your employer’s responsibilities to protect you and how you can raise and escalate concerns. 

Yesterday, the latest data from the NMC register showed fewer people have joined the register (3,700 fewer in March 2020-21 compared to 2019-20); that our workforce is ageing (with one in five aged 56 or above and almost one in 10 over 60); and that younger people leaving our profession cited their reason for leaving as they were leaving the UK, Brexit and poor pay and benefits. 

With our current nursing vacancy rates and the register not growing enough to meet patient demand, we stand on the precipice of a crisis. We’ve heard examples this week of how nursing staff feel undervalued and they have no other choice than to leave their nursing roles. And with inflation rising – reported to hit 2.5% by the end of the year – the UK Government’s proposed 1% pay offer will mean a pay cut in return for your work and dedication over the past year. 

Nursing staff must feel supported and valued if they are to join and stay in the profession, through fair pay and adequate staffing levels for safe and effective care

The voice of nursing was heard loud and clear in Northern Ireland last year when members took the difficult decision to take industrial action. Members were steadfast in their commitment to improving conditions for the profession and for their patients - and their success demonstrated the power of our membership when we come together to lead change. We will support our members across the UK to speak up for our profession and our patients in the weeks and months ahead. 


Further information

News story on our continued calls for improved PPE
News story on our sharps injuries report
News story on the latest data from the NMC
Read our Nursing Workforce Standards
Prioritising personal safety advice guide 
Fair Pay For Nursing campaign



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 - 21/05/2021