Policy briefing

RCN guidance on responding to unexpected incidents or emergencies

Read our policy briefing on RCN guidance on responding to unexpected incidents or emergencies.


Read our policy briefing on RCN guidance on responding to unexpected incidents or emergencies

The aftermath of the London Bridge incident. Picture: Getty Images

Essential facts

Four terror attacks and the devastating Grenfell Tower fire in the space of four months have sadly demonstrated the dangers posed to all involved in unexpected events or emergencies.

The RCN has published guidance for nurses to clarify what action they should take if they are caught up in such an incident. The advice makes clear that nurses, whether at work or off duty, must always ensure they are safe before offering care.

The college reiterates that nurses should follow the Nursing and Midwifery Council’s (NMC) code of conduct at all times. This states that registrants must take account of their own safety, the safety of others, and other options such as paramedics for providing care.

Shortly before the RCN published its advice, off-duty nurse Kirsty Boden was killed during the terror attack on London Bridge after going to help others. In the 3 June incident three attackers killed eight people before being shot dead by police.

The college recognises that nurses often want to instinctively go and help others. But it warns nurses to act within the limits of their knowledge and competence at all times, including emergencies. At work, nurses should follow their employer’s major incident plans.

‘There is no expectation that a nurse or midwife will put their own safety at risk,’ the guidance says.

‘You may be able to help or assist in this type of situation but you should always follow the advice of the emergency services at the scene of an incident or emergency and find a place of safety if told to do so.’

Expert comment:

crossleyRCN professional lead for acute, emergency and critical care Anna Crossley

‘Your safety is paramount. We understand that people go into nursing because they want to care for people and they have the knowledge and skills to do that. But we are absolutely clear that nurses and midwives should always follow the NMC code of conduct, and this states that nurses must take account of their own safety and the safety of others.

‘In any situation, at work or outside, you actively have to make sure that your environment is safe – and if it isn’t you have to move to a place of safety before offering assistance. The police advice to Run, Hide, Tell (call for emergency assistance) is for everyone, including nurses.’

Implications for nurses:

Remember that during an event, whether in or outside of work, your safety is your priority, whatever your instincts. This is clearly set out in the NMC code that all nurses must follow.

Police advise that anyone caught up in a weapon or firearm attack should:

  • Run to a place of safety rather than surrender or negotiate. Encourage others to leave, but don’t wait.
  • If you can’t run, hide rather than confront. Turn your phone to silent and turn off vibrate. Barricade yourself in if possible.
  • When it is safe to do so, call the police on 999.

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