Nursing leaders mark World Patient Safety Day 2021 ahead of “knife-edge” winter

Press Release 17/09/2021

As the health services head into a challenging winter, nursing leaders say World Patient Safety Day 2021 must act as a “wake-up call” to ministers to urgently tackle the nursing workforce crisis.

Nursing staff are relied on to deliver safe and effective care in hospitals, the community, care homes, GP surgeries and more, for millions of people every day. But with tens of thousands of nursing vacancies in the NHS alone, and no government-led workforce planning in place to recruit and retain staff, patient safety may be impacted.

Soaring COVID-19 cases, an ever-growing backlog of people requiring care and seasonal pressures mean the profession faces the prospect of another knife-edge winter. Too few nursing staff means teams are under pressure, under resourced and care can be left undone.

The most recent official NHS data shows that the number of registered nursing vacancies in England had risen by more than 3,000 to 38,952. They also showed that the NHS waiting list for routine treatment rose to a record 5.6 million in July.

RCN Chair of Council Carol Popplestone said:

“This World Patient Safety Day should be a wake-up call for the UK Government – nursing staff deserve to be able to go to work with enough staff on shift to care properly and safely for their patients.

“That is what patients and their families deserve too. We will continue to campaign for safe nurse staffing and fair pay on behalf of our members until the UK Government recognise their clinical expertise and knowledge and make the right political choice by properly investing in the nursing workforce."

Dr Denise Chaffer, RCN President, added:

“Our members continue to provide the best care they can for patients across the health and care system, under continuing difficult conditions.

“This World Patient Safety Day, I’d like to extend my thanks to all nursing staff in the UK and across the globe, for their continued commitment to provide the safety-critical care their patients and families need.

“I hope that nursing staff take time today to recognise their incredible contribution to the health and wellbeing of our communities, despite continued nursing staff shortages. Investing in nursing staff and ensuring they are safe and supported is essential in improving the delivery of safe and high-quality health care for all.”

Also to mark World Patient Safety Day, the RCN has released a new video featuring Game of Thrones star and RCN ambassador Emilia Clarke who is supporting the call for action.

In her message to nursing staff, she said: “This day is a reminder of all you do to keep us safe and well, but I know you are still campaigning to get your work recognised by others, including with fairer pay levels and even safer workplaces. You have my full support, and I will always help to fight your corner.

“I have experienced first-hand the skill, the care and the compassion of your profession and it is with that in mind that I passionately support more investment in nursing – you are the best of healthcare.

“Thank you for everything you continue to do. I’m always with you.”

Supporting members to deliver safe and effective care is one of the RCN’s key priorities.

The RCN's Nursing Workforce Standards, published earlier this year, help all nursing staff understand what measures must be in place to support the delivery of them deliver safe and effective care – and challenge employers safely when they feel the standards are not being met.


NHS Digital data shows that for Q1 2021/22 (up to June 2021), there were 38,952 FTE registered nurse vacancies in England. This is an increase of 4,274 (+12%) vacancies compared to last quarter (34,678), and an increase of 1,192 (+3%) vacancies from the same period last year (37,760).

Figures published by NHS Digital last month (August) showed the number of people waiting for routine treatment on the NHS had reached a record 5.6 million. 

World Patient Safety Day is an annual global event which brings together patients, families, caregivers, communities, health workers, health care leaders and policymakers to show their commitment to patient safety.

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