What’s in store for nursing in 2019? Staffing issues, Brexit and new leaders

New roles, education standards and leaving the EU are expected to dominate the nursing agenda this year

New roles, education standards and leaving the EU are expected to dominate the nursing agenda this year

Love it or loathe it, 2019 looks certain to be dominated by fallout from Brexit. 
Picture: Alamy


The first 2,000 nursing associates will be registered by the Nursing and Midwifery Council in January. The role, which is designed to address a skills gap between healthcare assistants and nurses in England, provides a route to graduate-level nursing. Around 40% of nursing associates in training have indicated they plan to go on to take a nursing degree, according to the Department of Health and Social Care.

Hannah Sheldon and Donna Kelly have been training to be among the first
nursing associates. Picture John Houlihan

Addressing nurse vacancies will be a continuing priority for the RCN in 2019. The college will launch its safe staffing campaign to lobby the government in England for legislation ensuring there are enough nurses to meet patient need. Latest figures show there are 41,700 nursing vacancies in England.

Wales already has safe staffing legislation and the Scottish parliament has published a similar bill. Northern Ireland has no law on the issue but safe staffing has been outlined in a delivering care framework. An RCN spokesperson said: ‘Across England we are desperately short of registered nurses. The government must pass legislation that guarantees the right number of staff with the necessary skills to keep patients safe. This should be underpinned by a workforce strategy that responds to population need and prioritises nurse recruitment and retention.’


From 28 January, new NMC standards for supervising and assessing nursing students and nursing associate students across the UK will be in force. Nursing students will have a practice supervisor, practice assessor and academic assessor. For nurses, the changes will mean more of them become involved with the supervision and assessment of students as placement mentors disappear.

The RCN set up its #FundOurFuture campaign as part of its response to the demise of
the nursing student bursary in England. Picture: Gareth Harmer

Crystal Oldman, Queen's Nursing
Institute chief executive

The RCN will continue to lobby for funds for nursing education with its #FundOurFuture campaign. The campaign, which was launched last year, is calling for a minimum of £1 billion a year to be put back into nursing education, following the scrapping of the bursary in England in 2017.

District nursing may enjoy a raised profile thanks to a planned new route into the profession, according to Queen’s Nursing Institute (QNI) chief executive Crystal Oldman. The district nurse apprenticeship programme will recognise ‘the unique profession of district nursing’, Dr Oldman said.

‘District nursing and other nurse-led services in the community and primary care will be central to the successful delivery of the long-term plan in England, as well as other equally ambitious plans in Wales and Northern Ireland,’ she added. The apprenticeship will offer an NMC-recognised master’s level qualification with a non-medical prescribing element for successful apprentices. 


On 29 March, the UK is expected to depart the European Union, almost three years after the 2016 referendum vote to leave.

Nurses from the EU campaign for the right to remain in the UK after Brexit.
Picture: Barney Newman

Brexit still holds many unknowns in terms of how European citizens will fare once the UK has formally departed the EU, especially in light of ongoing workforce vacancies. The Cavendish Coalition, which brings together 36 organisations across health and social care, is focused on campaigning for staffing in the health service after Brexit.

Cavendish Coalition co-chair
Danny Mortimer.

NHS Employers chief executive and Cavendish Coalition co-chair Danny Mortimer said it is vital the NHS continues to recruit the staff it needs, including from the EU. ‘The health and social care sector is deeply reliant on talented colleagues from across Europe and the rest of the world. It is disheartening to see these projected workforce gaps at a time of rising demand for services,’ he said.

‘The health and social care sector desperately wants to retain the EU nationals working now. We need to ensure the development of the future immigration system is responsive and agile, with as little red tape as possible, and that it uses public service value as a factor in assessing skill levels and setting entry requirements, rather than just salary.'


Some of the most senior nursing posts in the UK will have new incumbents from January 2019. 

Andrea Sutcliffe will take charge at
the NMC

The NMC’s new chief executive Andrea Sutcliffe joins from the Care Quality Commission (CQC). Ms Sutcliffe, who has been chief inspector of adult social care at the CQC since 2013, said she is delighted to join the nursing regulator and will put ‘people at the heart of everything’.

Ruth May formerly takes up the role of England’s chief nurse, replacing Jane Cummings, who has spent six years in post. Ms May, previously executive director of nursing for NHS Improvement (NHSI), and a former theatre sister, forms part of the new NHS Executive Group, a combined management team for NHSI and NHS England.

After RCN general secretary Janet Davies resigned in the summer of 2018, in the wake of the fallout from the NHS pay deal for England, the college will elect a new leader in January. The RCN also has a new president in Anne Marie Rafferty, who has pledged to prioritise safe staffing and college governance. Professor Rafferty took up the post on 1 January, alongside new deputy president Yvonne Coghill. 


The Duchess of Cambridge is a patron of the Nursing Now campaign. Picture: Getty

Howard Catton of the International
Council of Nurses.

Nursing will start to enjoy more prominence internationally as preparations for the 2020 bicentenary of Florence Nightingale’s birth gather pace across the globe. The Nursing Now campaign, in partnership with the World Health Organization and the International Council of Nurses (ICN), will continue advocacy work to raise nursing’s profile. ICN director of nursing and health policy Howard Catton said: ‘Times like this do not come around often so, as a profession, we should exploit the opportunities to increase recognition of and investment in the profession.’ 

Mr Catton believes primary healthcare and non-communicable diseases will be under global focus again in 2019. ‘We know how central nursing is to addressing these two issues,’ he said. ‘We should look to use the attention on them to drive forward with nurse-led models of care and in growing advanced practice roles for nurses.’

RCN congress 

The college's annual congress will take place in Liverpool in May. Thousands of nurses are expected to gather for the conference, which is likely to feature debates on big issues such as safe staffing, education and post-Brexit health and social care. 

The conference centre in Liverpool where RCN members will gather in May.
Picture: John Houlihan

Independent sector healthcare assistant Filipe Rego will be attending RCN congress for the first time this year. Mr Rego says: ‘I work in a nursing home and lots of staff in similar organisations don’t feel that there is much that can be done about issues with workplace culture. This is one of the reasons my colleagues in the independent sector should go to congress.

'If you work in the NHS there are many different social networks to support you, but we must remember there is a huge membership in the private and other sectors too, and this means there is a huge family to support us here too. Even if we work in a small workplace, it’s important to realise we are part of a bigger picture, and our voices can be heard at congress.’

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