Why we have to continue to make the case for safe nurse staffing during COVID-19

 Dame Donna Kinnair 6 Nov 2020 Chief Executive and General Secretary

Donna Kinnair discusses why the UK Government must prioritise addressing the nursing workforce crisis now.

This week has been incredibly important for you, our members, as we continue to work alongside COVID-19 with a number of announcements impacting our working lives. 

It has become more and more apparent to the public that this winter will be one of the most difficult our profession has faced – with the usual winter pressures exacerbated by COVID-19. 

The NHS in England this week moved to its highest alert level – the second time this year since spring. Sir Simon Stevens, head of the NHS in England, revealed at a press conference that 11,000 COVID-19 patients were currently being treated and this could fill 22 hospitals. 

For many this marks the start of a second wave – but the first wave never crested for you. There hasn’t been a break this summer as you’ve continued to work relentlessly to tackle the backlog of routine care delayed by the pandemic. 

My message to health leaders across the UK is that they must do all they can to protect the wellbeing of you and your colleagues who continue to work under tremendous pressure.

I know in the NHS in England, there has been an effort to train more nursing staff to provide intensive care to those who need it most. 

But NHS leaders must tell us more about how many staff have these skills and how many more it needs. They must tell us which parts of the country are lacking experienced, specialist staff who provide expert care safely for patients and are very difficult to replace. They must identify where the gaps are so that existing staff don’t put themselves under further pressure to make up for these shortfalls. 

I won’t stop banging the safe staffing drum as we march into winter. 

It is more important than ever to have the right number of nursing staff with the right skills in the right place, no matter where nursing staff practise in the UK. 

We know, in some settings, nursing staff and their senior leaders are now being made to work in impossible situations. Poor staffing levels undoubtedly put lives at risk but also put the professional registration and safety of experienced nurses in jeopardy.

This is unacceptable and a reminder that the Government has had ample opportunities to mitigate the workforce crisis across the UK yet these have mostly been missed. 

While you will feel anxious about the months ahead, I want you to know the RCN is supporting you. 

We are making sure your voice is heard by ministers and governments about the issues you care about - testing, PPE, sick pay, vaccines and more. 

And we continue to push the UK Government to address the long-term workforce shortages through addressing student funding issues; retaining our current workforce and making sure you’re valued; and through international recruitment until we train enough nursing staff in the UK. 

Nursing will continue to show its best face this winter and I will give you every support I can as we face the challenges ahead together. 

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COVID-19 employment and clinical advice

Dame Donna Kinnair

Dame Donna Kinnair

Chief Executive & General Secretary

Prior to her appointment as Acting Chief Executive & General Secretary, Dame Donna was Director of Nursing, Policy and Practice and worked with UK-wide RCN staff to drive and implement RCN professional nursing, policy and practice strategy.

Before joining the RCN, Donna held various roles, including Clinical Director of Emergency Medicine at Barking, Havering and Redbridge University Hospitals Trust.
Donna advised the PM’s Commission on the future of Nursing and Midwifery in 2010 and served as nurse/child health assessor to the Victoria Climbié Inquiry.

Page last updated - 06/11/2020