This evening, nurses from across the UK will gather in London for this magazine’s annual awards ceremony.
The Nursing Times Awards recognise the often inspiring contribution made by nurses. Reading some of the accounts of their work, I am struck, but not surprised, by the tangible difference they have managed to make by delivering the kind of “hands-on” patient care that is such a timeless feature of nursing.
“Human kindness, reassurance and sympathy are age-old qualities, yet they are as important today as they have ever been.”
Over the past 40 years, I have visited many hospitals around the country and spoken to countless patients, including injured military personnel at Queen Elizabeth II Hospital in Birmingham, patients with cancer at both University College Hospital in London and at the Christie Hospital in Manchester, and children at Great Ormond Street Hospital in London.
In all these instances, together with many others, it was abundantly clear to me just how important the emotional connection between patients and skilled, hardworking nurses actually was.
In general, quite apart from the medical expertise that nursing staff provide on a daily and nightly basis, the reassurance and simple human kindness they can also dispense is, I believe, vital and must surely impact positively on the recovery of individuals.
Human kindness, reassurance and sympathy are age-old qualities, yet they are as important today as they have ever been. The Nursing Times Awards recognise this, as well as the importance of a holistic approach - treating the whole person, rather than just the symptoms of disease.
When this approach is combined with the best of conventional medicine, and adopted by the whole healthcare team, with scrupulous attention to every aspect of the patient’s personal, medical and nursing needs, great progress can be made.
I see this when I look at the results that have been achieved by Melissa Rochon, one of the nominees, at the Royal Brompton Hospital in London. Melissa and her colleagues were concerned about patients developing wound infections following heart surgery. As a result of an extensive study that they carried out into why some patients were susceptible to infection, they have developed a surgical-site infection score to improve patient safety and have, consequently, provided nurses with an easy tool to use to manage patients at risk of wound infection.
I can also see, from the nominations, the benefits that are derived when nurses - who are, in my experience, extremely busy people - spend time with patients, getting to know them and understanding their narrative and needs. In this way, nurses can help patients find their own particular path towards better health. The invaluable work being done by the Internet Risk Awareness Group in the Tees, Esk and Wear Valleys to teach people with learning disabilities to use the internet safely, and Patricia McDermott’s campaign to raise awareness about the impact of public toilet closures on people with continence problems in Guernsey, are two excellent examples of nurses understanding the broader context and taking action to meet patients’ needs.
I have long believed that the environment in which people live impacts upon their heath and, to this end, up to a dozen of my charities have been working in Burnley, in partnership with local organisations, trying to make a difference for the better in the fields of health, the built and natural environments, the arts, education and business. I was therefore very interested to read about the work that some of the nominees have, themselves, been doing to help tackle social and health inequalities.
In neighbouring Blackburn with Darwen, for instance, the Lancashire Care Foundation Trust has introduced an Early Start Programme, which offers intensive health-visiting support, early intervention and a preventative programme of care to the area’s most vulnerable first-time families. This is important because (as every father and grandfather knows) if we support young children and their parents, we have invested in this country’s future. Nina Turner, a nurse at Maidstone Prison, also deserves special mention. Nina only qualified three years ago, but she has worked to ensure that the prisoners in her care have access to screening, diagnosis and a pulmonary rehabilitation programme - all steps towards improving the care of prisoners who have chronic lung disease.
The nominees I have mentioned are just a few of the many thousands of nurses who understand the value of the “human touch” and who are committed to working day in, day out, in hospitals and in the community, to give patients, carers and families exceptional care. It strikes me that we must support them in their work and recognise their contribution however we can. It is impossible to express the value of the care they give - often when people are at their most vulnerable - and I can only congratulate them on all their achievements.