The chief nursing officer for England, Jane Cummings, probably has the hardest job of any incoming CNO.
Morale at an all-time low, and a seemingly endless stream of reports about poor care, cuts, attacks on pensions and pay freezes is pouring in. Really, could she have more of an uphill struggle?
Despite this, her exclusive interview with us on page 4 reveals an unshakeable belief that she can enthuse the profession to have pride in itself once again, and confidence that she can restore the public’s faith in nursing.
That is some task. What she thinks will help her achieve it is instilling core values, which she calls the five Cs: care; compassion; communication; commitment; and courage. She is working with the director of nursing for public health, Professor Viv Bennett, on this new vision, which they believe will improve outcomes, patient experience, staff experience and public engagement.
These issues are all important and deserve attention. Compassion is difficult if nurses feel constantly emotionally drained and exhausted. Excellent care will never be offered if nurses are too afraid to speak up to chief executives about the need for more staff on the night shift. Nurses can never commit to change and make a difference if no one listens to them or values their input.
Both Ms Cummings and Professor Bennett know they must create a nursing narrative, one that is clear about the massive contribution of nursing from birth to death and every moment in between. Nurses can keep you well, stop you getting sicker, cure you or look after you at the end of your life. The role is diverse and fulfilling – but would anyone ever believe that, looking at national press coverage?
It will take more than fine words on a flip chart to convince people that nursing is a profession worth joining and that every day can be a life-affirming experience.
The first step – as England’s two most senior nurses know – is to ensure that nurses believe that and are proud to reveal their job title to the public instead of hiding it away.
Time was when telling someone you were a nurse was met with admiration and respect, and those times need to be reborn. Ms Cummings and Professor Bennett need to make a difference for nurses so they can make a difference for patients, the public and themselves. Let’s hope they stand up for nursing as government policy and cuts remould the health landscape. The courage isn’t needed just at the front line – it’s needed in the corridors of Whitehall too.