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Principles of nursing practice

Eight principles that apply to all nursing staff and nursing students in any care setting

The principles of nursing practice describe what everyone, from nursing staff to patients, can expect from nursing. Find out about each principle here, and how you can use them as a nursing professional or student.

The principles describe what constitutes safe and effective nursing care, and cover the aspects of behaviour, attitude and approach that underpin good care.

Each of the principles was developed by the Royal College of Nursing in partnership with the Department of Health and the Nursing and Midwifery Council. Patients, the public and health care staff were also involved in developing them.

Learn more about how the principles are put into practice with this series of short films exploring each one.

Principle A

Nurses and nursing staff treat everyone in their care with dignity and humanity – they understand their individual needs, show compassion and sensitivity, and provide care in a way that respects all people equally.

Principle B

Nurses and nursing staff take responsibility for the care they provide and answer for their own judgments and actions – they carry out these actions in a way that is agreed with their patients, and the families and carers of their patients, and in a way that meets the requirements of their professional bodies and the law.

Principle C

Nurses and nursing staff manage risk, are vigilant about risk, and help to keep everyone safe in the places they receive health care.

Principle D

Nurses and nursing staff provide and promote care that puts people at the centre, involves patients, service users, their families and their carers in decisions and helps them make informed choices about their treatment and care.

Principle E

Nurses and nursing staff are at the heart of the communication process: they assess, record and report on treatment and care, handle information sensitively and confidentially, deal with complaints effectively, and are conscientious in reporting the things they are concerned about.

Principle F

Nurses and nursing staff have up-to-date knowledge and skills, and use these with intelligence, insight and understanding in line with the needs of each individual in their care.

Principle G

Nurses and nursing staff work closely with their own team and with other professionals, making sure patients’ care and treatment is co-ordinated, is of a high standard and has the best possible outcome.

Principle H

Nurses and nursing staff lead by example, develop themselves and other staff, and influence the way care is given in a manner that is open and responds to individual needs.

How you can use the principles

As a nursing professional or nursing student you can use the principles to:

  • understand what patients, colleagues, families and carers can expect from nursing 
  • help you reflect on your practice and develop as a professional
  • generate discussions with your colleagues or if you are student with your mentor, tutor or fellow students on the aspects of behaviour, attitude and approach that underpin good nursing care
  • identify where the principles are being practised within your organisation, and to identify instances where you think they are not being practised
  • see how they relate to a trust’s own set of nursing values.   
Patients and their families can use the principles to:

  • evaluate the care they have received by using them as a checklist.

Further reading

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female nurse in hospital corridor