Improving the general health and lifestyle of patients is “really everybody’s business” and nurses should not underestimate the influence they have, according to the chief nursing office for England.
Jane Cummings said this applied to all nursing roles and also midwives and allied health professionals.
Referring to her own background as a clinical nurse specialist in emergency care, Ms Cummings called on nurses working in similar settings to take opportunities to broach lifestyle issues, such as alcohol misuse with patients, while acknowledging that conversations could be difficult.
“Being able to have those conversations in a very pressurised environment, when you’ve got lots of other things that you need to concentrate on, is sometimes difficult,” she said last month at a national public health nursing conference in Birmingham.
“My message here is: can we start to think about how we can have what are sometimes very difficult conversations in those environments where people may be more interested in looking at something else.”
“Whatever job you do… you have an opportunity from birth through to death to be able to influence”
Ms Cummings acknowledged that many staff, especially those on the frontline, still thought of the NHS as being “about treating illness”.
But she said: “If we stop and do something different and actually start to look at lifestyle and prevention and inequalities – down the line, we will have a healthier population that are best placed to look after themselves.”
She added: “Whatever job you do… you have an opportunity from birth through to death to be able to influence. That’s one of the privileges, I think, of doing the jobs that we do.
“Our opportunities to improve health at every stage along that pathway should not be underestimated,” she said.
For example, she said midwives had a “really brilliant captive audience” that provided a “fantastic opportunity” to influence families.
However, she acknowledged that the NHS was yet to achieve this culture change. “We still have some way to go I think for it to be embedded – like a stick of rock – through everybody’s role,” she said.
Ms Cummings also said nurses needed the “courage not only to look after others but to look after ourselves” and “hold a mirror up” to their own lifestyle.
“That takes quite a bit of courage to look at ourselves – hold the mirror up and say ‘what is it as a healthcare professional that I need to do in order to be able to live the values and behaviours that we are hoping that the people we care for will adopt’,” she said.
In addition, Ms Cummings highlighted work that was underway at NHS England to support nursing staff on public health improvement, especially in the community, through commissioning new services and redesigning existing ones.
She noted the national community nursing strategy, which was launched last year, as well as new tools and guidance to encourage NHS organisation’s to commission more community services linked to public health improvement.
She told delegates that NHS England, along with other national agencies, was developing a delivery plan on “how can we commission for better behaviour change”.
“It’s our role to develop the appropriate commissioning levers and commissioning tools,” she said. “We’re going to start with three key areas – one around maternity, one around cardiac rehabilitation and very importantly one about community nursing.”
She said the community nursing commissioning tool would look in particular at district nurses, community nurses and general practice nurses, and the “prevention role that those very key individual should play”.