Last week the National Nursing Research Unit celebrated its 35th birthday at a wonderful event at King’s College in London. Over those 35 years, the NNRU has demonstrated just how vital it is for nurses to have an evidence base.
Several nurses - including Sally Brearley from the Nursing Care and Quality Forum and Howard Catton from the Royal College of Nursing - spoke about the importance of this organisation to the profession. And I echo their sentiments.
The unit has been able to remove the emotion from theories about the work nurses do, and really prove what the effects will be of, say, longer shift patterns or staff to patient ratios.
It has diligently gathered data to ensure what people felt would work really will have a positive effect on outcomes. And it has stuck to the statistics to prove how care quality indicators could be enhanced or undermined by certain changes to practice or staffing.
Yet despite undeniably proving its worth during the last three and a half decades, the NNRU has learnt that its government funding is not to be renewed. Instead, if this important work is to be continued, it must seek funding from elsewhere. Those working at the NNRU are confident that this can be achieved, although we must acknowledge it will not be easy. But the NNRU team recognises the value of their work to all those in nursing - and to patients and employers - and are determined to see it continue.
It is understandable that the government is looking to make some savings considering its financial pressures. But to cease to support nurse research seems shortsighted at best. The work of the unit has helped to drive policy around staffing levels, identify best practice as well as support research. It has provided evidence to enable the profession to campaign and lobby for change that will put patients first. Without this work, it would become harder to understand how patient outcomes are affected by issues such as single occupancy rooms, intentional rounding and skill mix.
At a time when reforms and cost-cutting measures are leaning heavily on resources, now, more than ever, nurse leaders need data to show evidence of how any changes will affect their capacity to care for patients. And the Department of Health would do well to remember that this isn’t just information used by nurses to lobby and campaign, but to actually ensure patient safety. With the Mid Staffs report looming on the horizon, what nursing needs is data to support its case for service transformation. This isn’t a “nice to have”. It is a “need to have”.
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