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OPINION

‘Nursing holds many solutions to the challenges the NHS faces’

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One of the seasonal messages I received, which was from the European Federation of Nurses Associations, really resonated: “Enjoy the break and accumulate new strength and enthusiasm for next year.”

Of course, many nurses won’t have had a break but, even so, it’s wise advice. The new year is a time for refocusing and new resolve; looking forwards, rather than back.

“We are so much more powerful if we support each other, keep an open mind and recognise colleagues’ efforts”

It would be easy to focus on the challenges facing nursing in 2017: financial pressures, strain on the health and social care system, and the effects of counter-intuitive government policies. But I’d also like to reflect on the nurses who do amazing things every day and make a real difference to people. We have much to be proud of.

It sometimes feels as if we’re too quick to criticise each other. That negativity can sap our strength and enthusiasm, preventing us from taking control of our destiny. We each have responsibility for the future of our profession. We are so much more powerful if we support each other, keep an open mind and recognise colleagues’ efforts. We have many of the solutions the health service needs – we must recognise those, not just the problems.

We’ve witnessed the predicted fall in student nurse applications and will keep calling on the chancellor to reverse the raid on our training budget in England. But we can also encourage people into nursing. We must recognise the potential of our new graduates – not just for the challenge and intelligence they bring to their practice, but also for their ability to carry out research and use evidence to develop the profession.

“We must invest in education and pay that fairly recognises the immense skills of nursing professionals”

And we mustn’t ignore existing evidence – that which shows the importance of having the right number of nurses with the right skills to deliver high-quality and safe patient care. Safe staffing remains our number-one priority.

That’s not to downplay the valuable contribution made by healthcare assistants. They must have opportunities to develop – to continue learning and to research will improve the quality of our work and mean patients feel they’re getting better, safer care. And those opportunities must be of high quality – be wary of anything that leads to second-rate options for some.

This is why it’s so vital to grow our nursing workforce while also investing in our current staff. We must invest in education and pay that fairly recognises the immense skills of nursing professionals. We know cuts to continuing professional development are a false economy, and we must focus on the importance of specialist training for supporting services such as intensive care and district nursing, as well as the training that moves practice forward and keeps patients safe.

“We can learn from the past without allowing recent changes in nursing education to return us to the past”

When we’re flexible in the way we work and in our systems, we free ourselves from the rigidity that restricts innovation. As well as highlighting the financial pressures we face, we can demonstrate real value – for example, by helping to reduce the millions spent in transaction costs that support processes not patients. Each of us can question which of those processes add value.

We can learn from the past without allowing recent changes in nursing education to return us to the past. It would be easy to feel ignored or put upon, but we should not forget that we have the confidence of the British public. Nurses are at the top of the league table of trust – 93% of people say they trust our profession. Remember that as you head into 2017. And remember my message from the EFN – hold onto your strength and enthusiasm. We’re a great profession.

Janet Davies is chief executive and general secretary of the Royal College of Nursing

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