Ann Keen on how to contribute to the PM’s Commission on the Future of Nursing and Midwifery
Nurses and midwives are at the heart of England’s health service - and responsible for many of its great achievements. You are the people relied on to provide high-quality, compassionate care, the experts who know what services best meet people’s needs. There are now 81,000 more nurses and midwives than in 1997 - the highest number ever.
People want professionals who will make them feel cared for, respected and involved. Those expectations have not changed over the years but the context in which care is given has and will change enormously. That means we cannot stand still.
Sadly, frontline staff tell me they often find it hard to act as the champions of quality or to lead change. Barriers include exclusion from decision-making, outdated perceptions of your role and a lack of understanding of the complexities of your work.
The nursing and midwifery professions have instigated many changes, but there are still exciting initiatives that do not bear fruit. Barriers to good quality are complex and difficult to tackle. If the solutions were easy we would have already found them, so we need to redouble our efforts. Radical shifts in action and perception are needed to empower nurses and midwives.
That is why the Prime Minister asked me to chair his Commission on the Future of Nursing and Midwifery in England. We have brought together 20 of the brightest and best in the professions as Commissioners, to develop existing and emergent policies. We also aim to identify major gaps, look at the barriers and ways of removing them, and stimulate innovative thinking and imaginative campaigning.
‘The Commission aims to usher in a new era in nursing and midwifery. I want to hear your thoughts about how the role of nurses and midwives should change’
A lot is already happening. Many nurses and midwives contributed to the NHS Next Stage Review, from which Lord Darzi’s report High Quality Care for All identified the provision of high-quality care and the role of nurses and midwives as the driving force behind the NHS. He rightly advocates emphasis on patients’ experiences, including evaluation; health promotion; personalised care plans for people with long-term conditions; national standards for advanced nursing roles; and improvements in nursing education and career pathways.
An impressive range of initiatives on these issues is being implemented under the leadership of the government’s chief nursing officer, Chris Beasley. We are considering how to strengthen these developments - and how to align them with the evolution of nursing and midwifery over the next decade.
The pressure on resources means we must think hard about where best to focus. We must ensure frontline nurses and midwives have the support, skills and competencies to design and deliver excellence in health services. As a district nurse I learnt the importance of helping patients and families to cope with illness and disability, while finding practical ways of leading healthier lives. For nurses and midwives, that means moving many more of our interventions and services upstream, to focus on preventing illness and promoting health.
It is 37 years since the last review of nursing and midwifery when the Briggs Committee produced its report. The prime ministerial backing of our Commission gives it high status and visibility - a unique opportunity to shape the future. Hence the PM’s request that we engage health professions, patients and public in a wide-ranging debate.
Our website is gathering opinions and evidence. I have written to over 300 organisations asking for their views. The NHS and other stakeholders are holding listening meetings. This week the Commissioners and I will hear from patients and the public at a listening event.
This first phase of the Commission’s work ends on 10 August. There is still time for you to make your voice heard - see below how you can contribute. We will analyse all the submissions, reflect on them and map out the initial messages. We will feed these back to professions and public in a second phase of engagement, before finalising our recommendations in a written report to be launched by March 2010.
The Commission aims to usher in a new era that locates nursing, midwifery and care issues in a central position in policymaking and management, and stimulates wide interest in and ownership of the need to promote improvements. We will tell a new story about the future nurse and midwife, to create a modern, realistic but inspiring public image - or plurality of images.
As a nurse, nurse lecturer and professional leader, I know that there is a huge emotional labour in nursing. Nursing is dynamic and always challenging. From my own experience, I know just how big that challenge is.
Gordon Brown told this year’s RCN Congress: ‘It takes the courage of people who care so much about something that they want to see that change’. I agree with him that the nursing and midwifery professions have shown that courage of leadership throughout history. Now is a key moment for us to find our voice again, and stand up to be counted.
I want to hear your thoughts about how the role of nurses and midwives should change in the future. Please click here to contact me.
Ann Keen, MP, is chair of the Prime Minister’s Commission on the Future of Nursing and Midwifery and health minister