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Both patient care and our profession depend on our voice being heard

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As a rabble rouser I often like to drop in a bit of politics while I’m on placement and frame the issues the staff have had on that shift as a way to get involved in the wider discourse on healthcare.

However, often – as with my shifts this week – this is met by scepticism and the belief that it will not achieve anything. When I started this year-long role within the Student Affairs section it was with the belief that the only way things will improve in our NHS is if we start talking about and having an opinion on the problems that face us. I knew that it would be an uphill struggle but to hear newly qualified nurses saying that last Saturday’s #OurNHS demo was meaningless is astounding.

Communication is an essential function of our role. Whether it’s filling in a Bristol stool chart or discussing a DNR order with a patient, we all know that the major skill we are using is our ability to communicate. It is why communication is such a key skill for assessment during the admissions process for universities. If we can’t communicate, in a variety of ways, then our role is meaningless.

If we can’t communicate, in a variety of ways, then our role is meaningless

A protest, such as the 4 March demo, is just one of those methods – an essential way of engaging with the public who are our patients but also our employers. I’m sure I don’t have to tell anyone reading this, but we are still regarded as the unskilled handmaidens of the doctors for a reason. The mainstream media needs to divide us and makes us feel worthless if we are to be taken advantage of now and when the NHS is privatised.

Four-hundred thousand militant nurses and midwives speaking on social media, knocking on doors, going out to protests… does our profession really feel like that won’t make a difference? We won’t know until we try. And try we should instead of bickering internally about nurse associates as I constantly seem to see on the RCN pages (granted I am one of the worst keyboard warriors out there).

Janet Davies, in her recent Nursing Times article, showed how effective communication can be. Her efforts this past year have impressed me as she pushed the conversation on all fronts about the instability which is being built into our workforce through measures such as the NHS Bursary, nurse apprenticeships and nurse associates. It is incredibly valid for Ms Davies and ourselves to criticise policies which don’t make sense and put our patients at risk. I hope she continues to push the boundaries of the conversation as we move into the conference season and wait expectantly to see what measures our unions will implement to stand up to, what seems to me, policy-based evidence creation.

It is valid for us to criticise policies which don’t make sense and put our patients at risk

I seriously question why the entirety of our profession isn’t screaming about the damage that is being done to the idea of a supernumerary status. How can anyone learn and reflect to become a registered practitioner if they are constantly carrying out a role as demanding as a healthcare assistant?

Medical students manage to have five years of supernumerary training before they begin to properly work and when they do work they at least receive a proper salary for it. Why is it so different for the professionals with the greatest patient contact? Are we really happy with our students, whether they are apprentices or university entrants, being used as another pair of hands? Are we happy that they will pay £26 an hour for the privilege? Enough is enough, we have to speak out.

Communication, in whatever form we choose to use it, matters. We have a duty to be loud and vocal in the protection of our profession and the NHS. I, and others, believe it is in our best interests. For those of you who came to the 4 March demo, thank you. For those who couldn’t make it or thought it didn’t matter, I hope you manage to find other ways to get involved. The care your patients receive and the way in which they – and you – are treated are dependent on it.

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