The Magnet Award is given to hospitals that are judged to have reached excellent standards of nursing care in the US, and it inspires and enthuses the nursing workforce that achieve the accreditation.
Could a similar system work in the UK though or do nurses feel too ignored and downtrodden to believe it could change things?
I was at a conference last week listening to speakers talk about a new way of pushing excellence in UK nursing, when someone sent me a tweet saying that something had to change in nursing because it could not go on the way it is.
I was struck by the truth in that sentence – it is a fact. If we leave nursing be and don’t invest in it, inject resources, new thinking and get the workforce organised differently, the profession will wither on the vine – and patients will suffer as a result.
So what was the conference that I was attending? It was the UK’s first Magnet Conference, which was held last Friday.
“Evidence was presented at the event that by year three they start to realise savings”
For those of you who don’t know, Magnet is a US-originated system that recognises nursing excellence, and the Magnet philosophy is now being spread in healthcare organisations across the globe. It sets a standard for nursing, and compels organisations to respect the value and contribution of the profession, and invest it in appropriately to achieve those results. Hospitals that meet a rigorous set of criteria are awarded Magnet accreditation, and have to work hard to maintain that status.
Far from being a tick box exercise, the Magnet system keeps leaders, managers and nurses focused on best practice, innovation in nursing, and quality experiences for patients and staff. And, although the system has initial set up costs, evidence was presented at the event that by year three they start to realise savings, mainly from better staff recruitment and retention, as well as greater quality outcomes.
The conference was organised by Oxford University Hospitals Trust and Nottingham University Hospitals Trust, who are each vying to become the only Magnet hospital currently in the UK.
Videos were shown of the Magnet Conference in the US, which is a nationwide event hosted at Universal Studios in Orlando, Florida.
By way of contrast, the first UK Magnet event last week was at the National Motorcycle Museum, just off the M6.
“Their sense of empowerment has been nurtured instead of being eroded”
The US version had a cast of thousands of nurses and an awards ceremony with razmataz, and more glitter, pom poms, pink stetsons and feather boas than a West Midlands conference venue can stomach.
But the spirit was arguably the same at both events. There was the same conviction that nursing is the route to improving care and the same pride in the eyes of the delegates. The only difference is that in the US they clearly believe it and live it. Their sense of empowerment has been nurtured instead of being eroded.
Here in the UK, that pride is dwindling. Pushed to the limit by scarce resources and even scarcer pay rises, it feels like nurses’ passion is being worn away. That is why this interest in Magnet – and also Pathways to Excellence, a bridging partner programme, that is being followed by Northampton General Hospital – is a much-needed boost for the profession.
Concerns I have heard about the Magnet programme are that it is overpriced, and unsuitable for these shores, where we fail to hug it out in the workplace. However, even hardened nurse leaders I’ve met have been convinced of the power of Magnet to improve nursing’s morale and make real, tangible differences to the quality of care delivered – without requiring additional funding in the long term.
As Oxford’s Magnet programme director Professor Dickon Weir-Hughes said: “We are really poor at celebrating best practice in this country.” Quite right. Nurses tend to accept and absorb the knocks and criticism, but don’t shout out about the contribution the profession makes. If Magnet changes all that, I for one am prepared to find out more about it.