Many of us will undoubtedly have spent some of the last few days looking back as part of the celebrations of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee.
Vintage 1950s dresses, floral teacups and wall-to-wall films of the coronation and Her Majesty’s early reign will have played their part.
But as Professor Anne-Marie Rafferty, professor of Nursing Policy, Florence Nightingale School of Nursing and Midwifery, pointed out at another big celebration for Her Majesty two weeks ago – the 125th anniversary of the Queen’s Nursing Institute – history can do more than just make us nostalgic.
History can provide us with many things, not least context and insight, according to Professor Rafferty. She reminded us, as we head towards another set of reforms, that a good historian loves to look back at previous innovations, such as the introduction of polyclinics during the last government, and use that 20:20 vision to answer questions about how successful the current changes in the health service may be.
Looking back at 125 years of Queen’s Nurses is also useful to see how far the nursing profession has come – and how far it hasn’t.
The skirts may have got shorter, the modes of transport more comfortable and the complexity of care provided more technologically advanced. But in some ways things have not changed that much for nursing.
Arguably, it’s the area of specialisation that has seen the greatest change. Nurses are running their own nurse-led clinics, which have transformed care, ensuring that patients receive fast, efficient and professional treatment. They are keeping patients with long-term conditions out of hospital and helping facilitate faster discharge so that patients can be treated in their own homes – which is proven to help with recovery rates.
But while these changes may be making nursing a more attractive career and ensuring the public are treated more effectively, nursing is still being hobbled by some of the attitudes and resourcing issues that have always held it back.
While the profession has made great leaps through specialist roles, such as diabetes and respiratory nurses, it is still held back by those who fail to recognise the difference these posts are making and potentially can make if better resourced.
Infection control specialist nurses, for example, have worked tremendously hard to make advances in reducing MRSA and C-difficile. And now, as reported in last week’s Nursing Times, infection control posts are being cut or not replaced – and the advances these nurses have made could well now be lost, all because those in charge of the purse strings see specialist nurses as an expensive luxury.
Nursing is making the advances, leading the way forward, making a charge for greatness – but the politicians and those controlling the budgets are not behind it. They still regard nursing as a huge and costly workforce, and a good place to make savings – shortsighted savings, of course. They still fail to realise the huge potential that nursing has to redesign services, make efficiency savings and improve healthcare outcomes.
Today’s nurses may not be donning the long skirts that got stuck in those Queen’s Nurses’ bicycle wheel spokes over a century ago, but things are still getting in the way of their direction of travel. And isn’t that something that history should have taught the ministers and the politicians not to do?