Last week I had the luxury of leaving the office twice to go to nursing-related events – once is actually unusual these days.
Poles apart in many ways, they were also similar in that they touched on the image of nursing and also the profession’s potential for innovation and leading change.
The first was the chief nursing officer for England’s annual summit, held this year in Birmingham, and bringing together the country’s senior nurse leaders to hear about and debate policy.
In her keynote speech at the event, Jane Cummings reiterated some of the main themes of her tenure as CNO, notably leading change, transforming care and innovating. She also said she would be championing a project to promote the “image and pride” of nursing, building on the fact that 93% of the population trust nurses.
“Our standing as a profession should reflect this stratospheric level of public support”
Jane Cummings, CNO for England
“Our standing as a profession should reflect this stratospheric level of public support, and so should our status,” she said. “I want to make sure this is translated into true pride and respect for what we do and the recognition of the impact of our work.”
Of course I wouldn’t disagree with this aim. But I would argue that the priority should be to gain meaningful government recognition of the impact of nursing, and this requires a knock on Jeremy Hunt’s door to push for some commitment to the profession. A good start would be protected funding for CPD, research to be embedded in pre-registration education, some mandatory standards for advanced practice and, most importantly, a better than 1% pay rise to mitigate the fact that, taking account of inflation, nurses have lost 14% of their income since 2010.
Meanwhile, on Thursday I visited a charity that provides free optical surgery in developing countries via its Orbis Flying Eye Hospital. After looking over its impressive mobile operating theatre and teaching facility, I met Ann-Marie Ablett.
When she’s not working full-time at the University Hospital of Wales, Ms Ablett spends much of her holiday passing on her skills to nurses in countries like Zambia, where embedding basic infection control techniques is half the battle and lack of internet means such things as the WHO safe surgery checklist are largely unheard of.
“Lack of internet means such things as the WHO safe surgery checklist are largely unheard of”
She told me that the experience made her more innovative and flexible in problem solving, and made her view the NHS as bureaucratic in comparison when she returned to Cardiff. She also noted that her trips away, while incredibly busy, reinvigorated her and even led to colleagues at home suggesting she looked younger on her return.
Ms Ablett’s passion for nursing and what she does through the charity shone through as she told me that, if she could do it all again, she would. And seeing her pictures of a young African girl before and after having cataracts removed, and hearing what it was like for mothers to see their children for the first time and vice versa couldn’t fail to move me too.
I should point out though that despite its focus on high-level policy and strategy I was also moved at the CNO summit. Nurse Molly Case’s poem – The Last 1,000 Days – about the importance of time to older patients, delivered from the perspective of an elderly woman, defeated my efforts to remain steadfastly impassive.
“The nursing profession is at its best when its highly trained members are free to think on their feet”
These two very different events both clearly demonstrated that the nursing profession is at its best when its highly trained members are free to think on their feet and use their skills and knowledge to assess each situation as it occurs and react appropriately. But they also need time if they are to be able to express the compassion that inspires the public’s affection – and this is difficult to achieve when they are dogged by unnecessary bureaucracy, exhausted due to short staffing and struggling financially.
The dedication of nurses like Ms Ablett and her fellow volunteers is extraordinary. But all nurses need the chance to shine, and this requires policy and strategy that will get their work and training environments right and reward them fairly for a job that involves extraordinary levels of physical and emotional commitment. Over to you CNO.
Who dares knock on Mr Hunt’s door to shout out for nurses?
Source: Paul McKelvey