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The UK’s four chief nursing officers and the nursing regulator have today issued an open letter to the profession to offer their support to nurses as the second wave of the coronavirus pandemic continues.
The letter sets out that “temporary changes in practice” will be required once again, with the possibility of some nurses being asked to work “outside their normal role or place of work” as they did in the first wave.
“It has been and will continue to be difficult, but mutual support makes this prolonged crisis easier to manage personally as well as professionally”
Following national action taken across the four nations to slow the spread of the virus, the nurse leaders said the “initial peak of pressure will be significantly lower than it would have been”.
“However, it may well be prolonged throughout the winter period, with local variation and fluctuation in cases, requiring a sustained and prolonged response,” the letter said.
On top of this, there were “already sustained additional pressures” in parts of the NHS and care provision that would “inevitably be exacerbated by staff shortages due to sickness or caring responsibilities”, the leaders said.
A similar letter was sent out to the workforce at the first peak of the pandemic in March which had set out the initial steps for tackling the outbreak.
The new statement issued today stressed the need to “support one another during this time”.
“It has been and will continue to be difficult, but mutual support makes this prolonged crisis easier to manage personally as well as professionally,” they noted.
“As leaders for our professions we, as chief nursing officers, remain committed to supporting you during these difficult and uncertain times.”
Nurses could access health and wellbeing initiatives that were in place if needed, added the letter, which assured that the CNOs, the nursing regulator, government and other professional bodies were continuing to work together to “ensure that the voices and needs of nurses and midwives are heard”.
“We are very proud of the response of the nursing and midwifery professions and nursing support staff to this challenge”
Nursing Times is seeking to raise awareness of the mental health pressures and wellbeing needs of nurses during and after the coronavirus pandemic and has launched the Covid-19: Are You OK? campaign to lobby for support for staff.
The letter goes on to state the need for “all healthcare professionals to be flexible in what they do” and noted that, for nurses, this could include “working outside their normal role or place of work”.
“We recognise how stressful this can be and that our professional communities may have concerns about both the professional practicalities and implications of working in such circumstances,” the letter said.
“We are committed to ensuring you feel supported during these changes and able to discuss and raise concerns where appropriate.”
However, directors of nursing were warned in a separate letter issued last month against redeploying health visitors and school nurses this time around due to increasing child safeguarding concerns.
In the second wave, the Nursing and Midwifery Council would continue to take context into account should a problem arise, stated the letter issued today.
Nurses should continue to adhere to the NMC code and use “professional judgement, taking account of the realities of an abnormal emergency situation”, it added.
“We want nurses and midwives, in partnership with patients and people they provide care for, to use their professional judgement to assess risk and make sure people receive safe care, informed by the values and principles set out in their professional standards,” the letter added.
“It is the responsibility of the organisations in which we work to ensure we are supported to do this.
“They must bear in mind that clinicians may need to depart, possibly significantly, from established procedures to care for patients in the highly challenging but time-bound circumstances of the peak of a pandemic.”
Emergency measures were put in place at the start of the pandemic to expand the workforce quickly to meet the expected surge in demand.
The temporary NMC register was launched in March 2020 to allow former registrants and overseas-trained staff in the process of applying for UK registration, to join the coronavirus frontline.
During the first wave of the outbreak, thousands of student nurses also joined the nursing response through paid clinical placements, giving up their right to supernumerary status.
Now in a second wave it has been agreed that students will this time remain on their courses as normal, and would be supernumerary on placement, stated the letter.
In recent months concerns have been raised around student nurses who needed to catch up on lost placement hours during the pandemic or for those who were behind on theory work.
Within the letter, the nursing leads also thanked those in the profession for their “remarkable past, present and future work to reduce the impact of this crisis on the lives of our fellow citizens”.
“You were a testament to our professions during the first wave and we know you have been working tirelessly to improve Covid-19 and non-Covid-19 care since,” the letter said.
It added: “We are very proud of the response of the nursing and midwifery professions and nursing support staff to this challenge, and we hope you are as well. It has been truly exemplary and inspiring.”
The letter was signed by CNO for England, Ruth May; CNO for Scotland, Fiona McQueen; CNO for Northern Ireland, Charlotte McArdle; CNO for Wales, Jean White; and chief executive and registrar of the NMC, Andrea Sutcliffe.