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Every nurse deserves a New Year honour

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Nearly 20 nurses and midwives made the New Year’s Honours list, and it is a sign of just how vital professions’ contributions are

This year is going to be tough for the nursing profession, and indeed the whole healthcare system. With some newspapers reporting that the NHS is kicking off 2017 by advising people not to head to A&E unless “they are dying”, we can confidently predict that the theme running throughout the year will be all about battening down the hatches.

”Nurses continue to achieve rather a lot to be proud of”

Anyone remotely connected with nursing can be forgiven for thinking it’s all bad news. The NHS has now endured years of budgets shrinking in real terms as costs have risen. And the nursing workforce faces what could be described as a perfect storm: fears over Brexit are affecting international recruitment, while domestic recruitment is hampered by years of stagnant pay or below-inflation rises and the scrapping of the student bursary making the profession less attractive. And all this at a time when large numbers of experienced nurses approach retirement age.

There is always such a cornucopia of bad news to write about – and of course it’s important to air these issues. But it’s also important to celebrate the fact that despite the doom and gloom, nurses continue to achieve rather a lot to be proud of.

”It makes me proud to see the contribution of nurses being recognised”

Since I became editor of NT six years ago, a highlight of my Christmas break – in addition to trying to bribe neighbours’ children to take the leftover Quality Street off my hands – is to read through the New Year’s Honours and cheer for the nurses on the list. It makes me proud to see the contribution of nurses being recognised.

I know many of your working days are so busy you won’t even have time to glance at the roll call of honour for your peers. So I’m shouting about it in the hope that you all realise that while the honours go to individuals, they reflect the value of the entire profession and the fantastic contribution nurses can make – and do make – every time they go to work.

With nearly 20 nurses named in the honours list, there are too many to mention them all, but here are a few that struck a chord with me.

Elizabeth Anionwu, who picked up the Chief Nursing Officers’ Lifetime Achievement trophy at the 2016 Nursing Times Awards, was made a dame for her work raising funds for the Mary Seacole statue and awareness of this extraordinary nurse, and for her pioneering work running the UK’s first nurse-led sickle/thalassaemia screening and genetic counselling service.

Caroline Leigh Watkins, a professor at the University of Central Lancashire was also made a dame, for her work in stroke and care of older people. Also highlighting the importance of nurses transforming older people’s care is Deborah Sturdy, a nurse adviser at Care England, who was made an OBE for her services to older people’s care and dementia.

”It was good to see the breadth of nursing that was included in the honours list”

CBEs were given to Royal College of Nursing president Cecilia Anim and the Nursing and Midwifery Council’s new director of nursing and midwifery Geraldine Waters.

It was good to see the breadth of nursing that was included in the honours list; it included nurses working in policy, education, research, forensic rehab, the community, a sexual assault referral centre, with the homeless, in the armed forces as well as in acute settings.

”She is a great example of how you don’t need to put up and shut up”

Perhaps the most heartwarming award of all was that for Gail Adams, the outgoing head of nursing for union Unison. Gail has worked tirelessly to champion the cause of nurses as individuals and as a profession, and it’s pretty hard to find someone who cares more about the future of nursing – or about nursing right here, right now. But she also has the courage to speak up when things need to be said – she is a great example of how you don’t need to put up and shut up to be recognised by “the establishment”.

Sometimes, chanting from the rooftops and brandishing placards on picket lines – and skewering politicians at NT conferences and in the wider media with assertive questioning – is what’s needed, and it’s great to see a real fighter recognised in this way.

Well done to every nurse recognised in the honours list – all of us at Nursing Times salute your dedication, commitment and accomplishments. I hope you enjoy your time in the spotlight. But we also salute those of you who aren’t on the list, because things are tough out there, and you are pretty exceptional people doing exceptional work.

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