Nursing staff need improved staffing and funded time out extra to annual leave, says RCN

Frontline healthcare workers have been working flat-out since March 2020 with no clear end in sight.

Matt Bodell
24 February 2021
Stresed nurse

‘Long COVID’ should also be recognised as an occupational disease.

The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) has said that while returning to a ‘normal’ service level must have patient need at its centre, it can’t come at the expense of staff wellbeing.


A new document published by the College outlines eight key principles focusing on staff recovery and patient safety.

It says that staffing levels must be urgently addressed and must return to pre-COVID-19 levels as a minimum, particularly in areas such as intensive care where ratios were “diluted to unsafe levels during the pandemic”.

The principles emphasise that nursing staff need rest and recuperation, including funded time out in addition to annual leave, as part of any ‘recovery and retention strategy’ in health care. They highlight the importance of nursing staff having timely and ongoing access to services to support their mental health and wellbeing, including confidential counselling, bereavement and psychological trauma support for all staff.

The RCN is also calling for ‘long COVID’ to be recognised as an occupational disease with appropriate support put in place.


Even with extensive vaccination programmes, the occupational risk to nursing staff remains high, claims the RCN. As they also reinforce previous calls for a higher level of personal protective equipment to be used as a precautionary measure as new variants of the disease emerge.

RCN Chief Executive & General Secretary Dame Donna Kinnair said: “The prime minister must not bow to political pressure, only to pile it on health and care services instead.

“The messaging on hands, face and space must be reinforced, not diluted. Nursing staff are still telling me that the pressure on hospitals and other services are as bad as at any point last year.

“Exhausted staff must be supported to recover and pressure must abate further before we can enjoy the normality everybody craves.”


Employers are also being asked to consider the increased risk faced by health care staff from black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) backgrounds and take action to reduce the risk and protect staff from the impact of COVID-19.

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