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Letter to NHS England staff states COVID-19 epidemic would require changes in nursing practice

Clinicians may need to depart from established procedures during the peak of an epidemic, nursing leaders say in joint letter

Image of coronavirus. Clinicians may need to depart from established procedures during the peak of an epidemic, nursing leaders say in joint letter.
Picture: iStock

Nursing staff may have to work ‘in clinical areas outside their usual practice or unfamiliar surroundings’ during a COVID-19 epidemic in the UK, according to a letter to healthcare staff in England.

The Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) and nursing leaders at NHS England, the RCN, the Council of Deans of Health and the Royal College of Midwives have issued a joint letter acknowledging that working in such conditions would require temporary changes to practice.

Employers' responsibility to ensure staff are supported

‘It may entail working in unfamiliar circumstances or surroundings or working in clinical areas outside of their usual practice for the benefit of patients, individuals and the population as a whole,’ the letter states.

‘This can be stressful, and we recognise that you may have concerns about both the professional practicalities and implications of working in such circumstances.’

The letter highlights the need for nursing staff to adhere to the basic principles of professional practice in line with the NMC code of conduct and to use judgement in applying the principles to situations they may face.

‘However, these also take account of the realities of a very abnormal emergency situation,’ it says, adding that it is the responsibility of employing organisations to ensure staff are supported.

Context will be taken into account if fitness to practise cases arise

‘They must bear in mind that clinicians may need to depart, possibly significantly, from established procedures in order to care for patients in the unique and highly challenging but time-bound circumstances of the peak of an epidemic.’

The NMC had previously confirmed that context would be taken into account should any fitness to practise issues arise.

On 11 March NHS chief Simon Stevens announced that third-year nursing and midwifery students would be invited into clinical practice and the NMC confirmed it was working with government on developing legislation to register them quickly on an emergency basis.

Latest figures report 596 cases of COVID-19 and ten deaths from it in the UK.

Latest COVID-19 news

  • The World Health Organisation has upgraded the COVID-19 outbreak to a global pandemic
  • The UK government has moved to the delay stage of its response to the coronavirus outbreak. This could see restrictions, such as limiting mass gatherings of people, imposed in an effort to delay the spread of COVID-19
  • Keith Neal, emeritus professor of the epidemiology of infectious diseases at the University of Nottingham, has warned that closing schools due to COVID-19 fears could reduce the number of NHS workers available to treat patients

Further information

Joint letter: Supporting Nurses, Midwives and Nursing Associates (England) in the event of a COVID-19 epidemic in the UK


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