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RCN launches ground-breaking standards for delivery of safe and effective care

10 May 2021

New nursing workforce standards outline what’s needed to ensure services are properly staffed, safety is prioritised, and nursing professionals are supported to perform their best.

Nursing Workforce Standards - Supporting a safe and effective nursing workforce

The RCN’s Nursing Workforce Standards have been created to explicitly set out what must happen within workplaces to ensure the delivery of safe and effective patient care.

The 14 standards – the first of their kind – have been designed for use by those who fund, plan, commission, design, review and provide services which require a nursing workforce. 

They can also be used to help nursing staff understand what they should expect to be in place to enable them to do their jobs safely and effectively.  

The standards are grouped into three themes. They are:

Responsibility and accountability – outlining where the responsibility and accountability lie within an organisation for setting, reviewing, and taking decisions and action on staffing levels and skill mix.

Clinical leadership and safety – outlining the needs of nurse leaders with professional responsibility for teams, their role in workforce planning and the professional development of staff. 

Health, safety and wellbeing – outlining what’s needed to support nursing staff to provide the highest quality of care, including safe shift working, the ability to raise concerns and the right to work in a safe environment that prioritises staff wellbeing. 

The standards apply across the whole of the UK and to every setting where nursing care is delivered. They’re being launched as new polling reveals seven in 10 people believe there are too few nurses to provide safe care. Of the 1,752 members of the public who were surveyed, more than a quarter said they felt themselves or their families may not get the care required when needed.

There are currently more than 50,000 nursing vacancies in the NHS across the UK, with many more unrecorded vacancies in social care. This is expected to be exacerbated by the pandemic, as many nursing staff face burnout and exhaustion.  

RCN Acting Chief Executive & General Secretary Pat Cullen said: “The shortage of nursing staff across all specialties, in the NHS and independent sector, compromises patient safety. We are acting to address this by setting standards that represent the gold standard in workforce planning and management. 

“There are so many examples of excellent delivery of care and for the first time, we have set out our expectations so we can ensure that these standards of care are consistent across the UK. 

“Nursing is the largest safety critical profession in health care and it’s vital that we have the right staff, with the right skills, in the right place, at the right time.”

The standards have been created in partnership with RCN members and seek to address the lack of formal guidelines around safe staffing. They will help nursing staff recognise what good practice looks like in terms of how services should be staffed and, when the standards aren’t being met, how to safely escalate concerns. The RCN will support members to do this, where appropriate. 

Rachel Hollis, Chair of the RCN’s Professional Nursing Committee, which has overseen the development of the standards, said: “For too long, massive under-investment and lack of robust workforce planning has left a threadbare nursing workforce, unable to deliver that safe, high quality care that we aspire to, and our patients have the right to expect. 

“These standards are a positive tool for change, and we expect all workplaces to adopt and apply them.

“The setting of nursing workforce standards across the UK has never been achieved before but the time to do that is now. We have a unique opportunity to build on the collective nursing leadership demonstrated during the pandemic, and together advocate for a safer, more effective nursing workforce that works now, and is fit for the future.”


Page last updated - 11/06/2022