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Leading care with learning

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Monica Fletcher is convinced that education and research are vital for good health and social care

Monica Fletcher’s family were not happy about her becoming a nurse. “My father had a postwar view of the profession, and I think lots of my contemporaries – I am in my mid 50s – suffered with that perception. He wanted me to be a banker – how boring would I have found that?” she says.

Little did her family know just how far nursing would take her. She is now chief executive of Education for Health, a global educational charity that trains health professionals in long-term conditions, with a huge vision of transforming people’s lives. In the UK, her work involves fundraising, advocacy and educating predominantly practice nurses how to manage and care for those with long-term conditions.

Ms Fletcher started in general nursing and children’s nursing then moved onto health visiting, and primary care became her main passion.
“I did a diploma in health visiting and it really opened my eyes to higher education.

I studied sociology and psychology, and I realised how higher education and research could enhance nursing roles. I eventually went on to take a BSc, PGCE and a master’s.”

Back in the 1980s, she became one of the first nurse practitioners in the UK. Her appointment at Education for Health came shortly after working as co-director primary care of NHS Executive London. “The NHS was about to go through another set of reforms and I just couldn’t face that again so, 11 years ago, I took up a challenge in the charitable sector.”

Since then, the 10 staff she inherited have grown to 45, serving 5,000 students a year.

“It’s the best job in the world,” she says. “I love our independence, and putting nurses and patients at the forefront.”

Education for Health has a portfolio of disease prevention, risk management and health improvement training courses. It also undertakes research to help improve health and social care provision.

“We never do research for research’s sake,” says Ms Fletcher. “For example, we have just published a global study on the impact of COPD on the working-age population. It was a large cohort of 2,400 patients across six countries and it highlights what it costs society and what it means for individuals and their families.
“We have fed this into the Department of Health and the Department for Work and Pensions and it has been looked at at EU level. The need to keep people actively employed has been picked up by government.”

Ms Fletcher’s work is global – in any given week, she could be raising money for equipment for a village in Bangladesh, presenting research in Shanghai or taking training to Dubai. She is also chair of the European Lung Foundation.

“It’s busy, but a lot of the work crosses over. I’m leading World Spirometry Day, which is highlighting lung health and the association with exercise. The Olympics and Paralympics are important, as are ordinary people living with lung diseases such as cystic fibrosis, asthma and COPD, who can become lung champions by celebrating what they can accomplish.”

As a marathon runner herself, she is hoping to inspire others to exercise.

Despite the travels, which would no doubt would have made her father proud, she says her best moments are seeing mature practice nurses graduate after never believing they were capable of getting a degree.

“The NHS is changing, but my mantra is we will not cope with that without education. Not educating people will create a time bomb – Education for Health can change all that.”

Jenni Middleton

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