RCN2020 debate: Future of nursing

28 Sep 2020 13:00 - 14:00



In this International Year of the Nurse and Midwife, what are the future opportunities and challenges for the nursing profession?

Proposed by RCN Mental Health Forum

The last 100 years of nursing has seen our role develop into something vastly different from our predecessors. We are now a diverse, highly trained and specialist workforce, the largest in health care by a significant margin. The World Health Organization’s International Year of the Nurse and the Midwife 2020 has provided a chance for us to reflect on where we came from, and how long our journey to the present day has been. 

In 2020, the RCN is engaged in key challenges such as safe and therapeutic staffing, recruitment and retention of the workforce, and a fair pay settlement. Events run this year build on these key issues, in addition to numerous other projects and collaborations both internally and externally.

If not for the COVID-19 pandemic, the Nightingale2020 event planned for October would have been one of the major international nursing conferences. Despite the current crisis we have continued to reach out and connect with our international nurse midwife colleagues.  An essential aspect is reflecting on the role of nurses and midwives in health care today and it is where the RCN and our nursing partners are focusing significant effort. Wake up Slackers our Registration100 events and exhibition ran from October 2019and included a collaborative event with the NMC. Our brand new exhibition launched 2020; Who cares? A history of emotions in nursing shows how nursing has changed over the last 150 years and was produced with input from members across the UK.  We have also contributed to the Nightingale Museum 2020 exhibition with input from Scottish RCN Students.  

In Scotland the UK Nursing 2030 details the Chief Nursing Officer for Scotland vision for nursing. The Vision is about preparing a nursing workforce to be able to meet people's needs as we move towards 2030. In Northern Ireland 2020 highlights will include the RCN Student Leadership Challenge and the annual RCN Northern Ireland Nurse of the Year Awards. In Wales the Assembly elections are in 2021, so we will develop our strategy to emphasise the need to extend of Welsh safe staffing legislation, including special stakeholder events. 

In marking our transformation, we must also consider how the landscape of health care in general, and nursing in particular, will change. A century ago, there was no NHS, no common training and no specialised fields. Now, as professional registrants, we have four distinct fields of nursing, a growing role in research and academia, an array of specialist organisations and publications, advanced roles, leadership and representation on clinical boards, even members of parliament. Nurse education has changed and is changing; nursing has become a degree profession and over recent years, the NMC standards of proficiency have changed to meet the changing standards in practice.  

Clinical skills and competency levels have also become more advanced, to enable nursing staff to provide treatment and care that would previously only be undertaken or considered by a qualified doctor. We have burst out of hospitals into the community, schools and universities, workplaces, prisons and young offenders’ institutions, sharing our expertise all over the world. The use of technology has increased and has become commonplace in supporting nursing care. For example, within the community setting vital signs can be checked remotely to help determine the level and type of nursing intervention. The nursing profession and nursing practice continues to change and evolve, so the questions we might want to consider are:

  • In the next one hundred years, how will the role of the nurse develop?
  • What will the next generation healthcare environment look like?
  • Will we have a generic role and title, or perhaps become a diaspora of specialists?
  • Does our profession have the strength of identity to become a force for the coming century?
  • How will technology, changes to society, environment and society modify our role?
  • How should we members lead the development and consolidation of our profession?

This matter for discussion is not harkening to an idealised past, but an honest assessment of the upcoming challenges ahead for ourselves and our successors.

We have pulled together further relevant reading material 


Our debate session will be hosted so members can take part and join in the debates. Do please think ahead of time about what you would like to say on this debate so you can take part in the session.

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Do find out what other debates and events we are hosting as part of RCN2020.


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Page last updated - 21/09/2020