On 19 October I received an email that I really wasn’t expecting. It was the news that Gail Adams, the well-known and long-serving head of nursing at Unison, was stepping down.
Unlike some similar announcements that seem to be an open secret long in advance, this one seemed to be a genuine surprise to the nursing community.
I have been at Nursing Times for over eight years now and Gail has remained a rare constant throughout that time. Only Peter Carter and Howard Catton, who have both recently left the Royal College of Nursing, were really in the same boat.
She has been a constant outspoken champion of nurses and healthcare assistants and a friend to Nursing Times, generous with her time to help with stories and, on occasion, to encourage her union colleagues to give us an exclusive or two.
“Gail used her time on stage to deliver a short but withering speech to those in authority about the challenges facing nursing”
So many times I have been reporting on a nursing conference debate or panel session, when a loud voice at the back has asked an awkward but “on the money” question – usually two – that has left the senior nurses on stage struggling for an answer and the rest of the audience applauding.
Likewise, last Wednesday was our annual Nursing Times Awards in London, where Gail, as ever, was one of the judges in the team category and presented the award to Barts Health.
In what has become a tradition at the NT Awards, Gail used her time on stage to deliver a short but withering speech to those in authority about the challenges facing nursing.
“Gail’s exhortations to the health secretary to give nurses more than 1% pay rise got one of the biggest cheers of the night”
None of the other award presenters ever makes a speech apart from in the chief nursing officers’ lifetime achievement award category, but equally no one has ever stopped Gail having her say down the years – would anyone try?
This year was no different, in that Gail’s exhortations to the health secretary to give nurses more than 1% pay rise got one of the biggest cheers of the night – except it was also her final time in this particular spotlight.
We will miss you Gail – Nursing Times will miss you, the nursing profession will miss you and I will miss you.
Her departure from the role of Unison head of nursing comes at a time when the nursing pressure is facing many challenges – though it could be argued that there is never a time when it is not – and needs all the champions and supporting voices it can muster in its camp.
“After 14 years in the trenches I think it’s fair to say Gail deserves a break”
Gail has been an outspoken critic of the axing of the student nurse bursary and warned repeatedly of the ongoing nurse shortage and the new threat to it posed by Brexit, though her views on the nursing associate role are less clear because she is a huge advocate of healthcare support workers and supports their career progression. She did, though, say at a recent round table Nursing Times hosted on the subject, that it was going to be “nursing on the cheap”.
We are also about to enter a new phase of Agenda for Change reform and the current pay rise negotiations are already underway. It is so far yet to be revealed who will be representing Unison on these issues in future, but after 14 years in the trenches I think it’s fair to say Gail deserves a break.
“As the union’s head of nursing, she will be an impossibly tough act to follow”
Of course, she is not leaving Unison altogether and has been promoted to lead the union’s professional services unit, which represents members in fitness to practise cases involving the Nursing and Midwifery Council or the Health and Care Professions Council.
As the union’s head of nursing, she will be an impossibly tough act to follow. But good luck to those at the NMC and HCPC who will now find themselves opposite her in her new role – they will need it.