Not all nurses wear uniforms you know, someone told me in response to my editor’s view a couple of weeks ago about many geniuses in the NHS coming in a nurse’s uniform.
Of course, I know that’s true, and I hope all those nurses doing phenomenal jobs but in civilian clothing realise I was speaking metaphorically. It’s the nursing mentality that brings about the inspiration behind the innovations I was writing about, rather than the piece of fabric being worn.
The point being made by my critic was that nurses outside of uniforms sometimes feel invisible. One branch of the profession that probably feels like it’s been donning a cloak of invisibility over the years is health visiting. Well, it’s been invisible for the most part, until things go wrong, and then those in the profession have probably wished they had a cloak that really could make them undetectable to the naked eye - or at least to the media.
Health visitors have been shrinking in number, and in a bid to attract more people to the role, the government has taken steps that include making it easier to train and become qualified (see news, page 5 and opinion, page 7).
Health visitors have a special insight into patients’ lives, their socioeconomic situations, homes and family set-ups and so have enormous knowledge of and influence over lifestyles that will affect the public’s physical and mental health and wellbeing. As such, the government is right to treat them as a precious commodity that can be our first defence against preventable conditions and diseases that cost the NHS billions every year. Widening their role and their autonomy, as the government proposes, will pay dividends in terms of public health savings.
Given the right rewards and support, health visiting could be an extremely challenging but exciting career path. But sadly, it’s often portrayed as a downtrodden profession that’s cruel and unforgiving. It’s not just the job and access to it that needs to change - it’s everyone’s attitudes to the role.