Rights at work: pushing the limits

22 May 2020

Jane Beach, Unite lead professional officer for regulation, recognises that you may have to work outside your scope of practice in these unprecedented times.

These are unprecedented times that have required us all to make huge changes within our personal and professional lives. Working in health and social care has always required the ability to adapt to change, but never at this scale or pace. All parts of the system have had to change the way they work in order to deal with the Covid-19 pandemic, and decisions have had to be taken that ordinarily would not be considered.

There has been a real willingness to do this collaboratively, and I am immensely proud of our members who are creating innovative new ways of continuing to deliver services to children and families while making the most of technology.

This is an anxious time and understandably practitioners may be concerned about decisions that are being made or that they are obliged to make. When people look back at the response to the pandemic they may, and likely will, criticise aspects, but hindsight is a wonderful thing. We can only make decisions to the best of our ability and in the best interests of those we care for. The NMC recognises that registrants will be expected to work outside of scope and may have to make difficult decisions. Their advice is to use the values and standards set out in the NMC code (NMC, 2018) to support professional judgement and refer to relevant guidance. They have also produced ethical guidance to go alongside the code to support registrants at this time (NMC, 2020).

'You should not put your family at risk, and you should only work ‘within the limits of your knowledge and competence’

There is an expectation within the code that registrants will provide support in emergency situations, but it is important to remember that this does not mean you should put yourself or your family at risk, and you should only work ‘within the limits of your knowledge and competence’.

If you are required to change setting, the level of care you are being asked to deliver should be clear, and any training needs to be addressed prior to redeployment. You should raise concerns where this is not the case. The NMC have issued a statement in relation to personal protective equipment.

We are told this is a marathon, not a sprint, so it is important that decisions around services consider the long, not just the short, term. We have been clear with policy makers across the UK, that health visiting and school nursing services are essential. The negative impact of any reduction in these, needs to be properly risk assessed prior to any decisions around the redeployment of staff being considered. In addition, ‘non-essential’ work that has in many cases been paused should be redirected into both infant and maternal mental health and safeguarding.

It has been shocking to read on Twitter that some student nurses are being made to feel that they have somehow ‘let the side down’ by choosing, for whatever reason, not to go on extended placement to support the workforce. When this temporary change in the NMC standards was discussed, we were clear that it had to be an individual’s choice. Ultimately, we are all doing what we can to support this difficult situation in whatever way is right for us, so please be kind, and keep yourself, colleagues and clients safe. And remember Unite is here for you.


NMC. (2020) Maintaining professionalism and trust during the COVID-19 emergency. See: https://www.nmc.org.uk/globalassets/sitedocuments/nmc-publications/maintaining-professionalism-in-covid-19-emergency.pdf (accessed 20 May).

NMC. (2018) The code: professional standards of practice and behaviour for nurses, midwives and nursing associates. See: https://www.nmc.org.uk/globalassets/sitedocuments/nmc-publications/nmc-code.pdf (accessed 5 May 2020).

Picture Credit | IKON

Subscription Content

Click To Return To Homepage

Only current Unite/CPHVA members or Community Practitioner subscribers can access the Community Practitioner journals archive. Please provide your name and membership/subscriber number below to verify access:

Membership number

If you are not already a member of CPHVA and wish to join please click here to JOIN TODAY

Membership of Unite gives you:

  • legal and industrial support on all workplace issues 
  • professional guidance on clinical and professional issues 
  • online information, training and support 
  • advice and support for all health professionals and health support workers
  • access to our membership communities 
  • CPHVA contribution rate is the Unite contribution rate plus £1.25 per month 

Join here https://www.unitetheunion.org/join-unite/

If you are not a member of Unite/CPHVA but would like to purchase an annual print or digital access subscription, please click here