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RCN to lobby against suspension of NICE safe staffing guidance

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Nurses have voted to lobby against the suspension of safe staffing work being carried out by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence, while also calling for more action from the profession itself on the issue.

After a passionate debate, union members at the Royal College of Nursing’s annual conference this afternoon voted overwhelmingly – 99% in favour – of supporting an emergency motion to campaign against the decision.

Those behind the motion claimed the decision to stop the NICE safe staffing programme put patients at risk.

Earlier this month, it was revealed that NHS England had asked NICE halt its programme for producing nurse safe staffing guidance.  

Instead, it was announced that the chief nursing officer for England and her team, which sit within NHS England, would takeover work on safe staffing guidance.

“This is not about the number of nurses we have on duty, it is about patient care and safety”

Jason Warriner

Jason Warriner, from the RCN’s Public Health Forum, which proposed the motion at today’s conference, described the move to take the programme away from NICE as a “huge step back for nursing”.

“This is not about the number of nurses we have on duty, it is about patient care and safety,” he told the conference in Bournemouth.

He referred to government commitments made by the health secretary two years ago, which meant all hospital wards would be required to monitor how staffing levels met guideline requirements.

“We are now weeks since the general election, the government has ignored nursing and ignored our calls for patient safety so we can deliver high quality patient care. What we need to do today is make sure our voices are heard,” said Mr Warriner.


The resolution

That this meeting of RCN Congress deplores the decision to halt the current work by NICE on safe staffing and calls for RCN Council to lobby for the reversal of this decision that puts patients at risk


Mark Boothroyd, from RCN’s inner south east London branch, claimed there were currently thousands of nurses being forced to look after unsafe numbers of patients – sometimes up to 14 per nurse.

“This is the situation we now know in the NHS exists. Right now huge swathes of the NHS are staffed to unsafe levels,” he said.

Mr Boothroyd questioned whether enough action was being taken on the issue of staffing by the RCN –  both its council and across its membership – to challenge the situation.

“We should be outside the Department for Health every month protesting, demanding they reinstate this research and create mandatory, minimum staffing level until we get them…It’s imperative we act now,” he said.

“Right now huge swathes of the NHS are staffed to unsafe levels”

Mark Boothroyd

But former RCN president Andrea Spyropoulos said it was “almost impossible to contemplate” how much work the union had completed on staffing levels over the years.

She said: “Our nursing staff are telling their employers and they’re telling the RCN, and they’re telling the public – and the public are telling the government – that the one thing that they know without any research is that when they go to any service area there are not enough staff.

“They know the answer – give me the money and I’ll give you the quality,” she said, resulting in a round of applause from delegates.

However, there was an awkward moment when congress chair Stuart McKenzie was forced to intervene and stop a speaker from continuing.

Jade Taylor, who said she was from RCN’s Berkshire branch, told the conference that she did feel the RCN did enough to support safe staffing.

She went on to bring up the care failings at Mid Staffordshire Foundation Trust and levelled criticisms at the RCN and its chief executive and general secretary Peter Carter over the handling of the situation there.

In response, Mr Carter said he “simply doesn’t accept” suggestions that the RCN was at fault over Mid Staffs.



  • For – 99.5% (360)
  • Against – 0.5% (2)
  • Abstain – 0% (1)


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