We talk to Ursula Gallagher, borough director and Professional Executive Committee chair at NHS Ealing, now seconded as assistant director of nursing at the Department of Health, who has been a nurse for 25 years.
Why did you become a nurse?
My parents died when I was a child so I had a lot to do with hospitals and nurses. One or two extraordinary encounters shaped my desire to be a nurse and the sort of nurse I did (and did not) want to be.
Where did you train?
The University of Surrey.
What was your first job?
I was a staff nurse on the cardiothoracic medical unit at Harefield Hospital.
What is the trait you least like in yourself and why?
Procrastination, which can cause stress to myself and, more importantly, others!
From whom have you learnt most in your career and why?
I have worked with and for some inspiring people: patients, colleagues and families. Pushed to specifics, I would have to say Robert Creighton my chief executive at Ealing Primary Care Trust, Chris Beasley, the chief nursing officer, and a child called Jinzia, who died during Live Aid in 1985.
What advice would you give someone starting out?
As a student, I once got a bad report from a ward sister. My tutor asked me if I respected her as a nurse and urged me only to seek the respect of those who I respected. This advice about being true to what I knew to be right has stayed with and guided me.
What keeps you awake?
Almost everything. I am a terrible sleeper. Professionally, I worry we could lose control of our destiny in the debate post the Mid Staffs inquiry.
What’s the most satisfying part of your job?
Working across health and social care to design integrated services that patients want to receive and staff want to deliver.
Your proudest achievement?
Commissioning some really innovative nurse-led services, including a nurse-led general practice, a nurse-led community anticoagulation service and a nurse consultant-led admission avoidance service. They made a difference to patients and changed expectations of what nurses can and should do.
What do you think will change nursing in the next decade?
The move to a graduate-level workforce will raise practice standards, and build our confidence and capability to be at the heart of the new clinically led, patient-driven NHS.
What would you have done if you hadn’t become a nurse?
I don’t know. Hopefully still helping those who cannot help themselves.
What job would you like to be doing in five years?
I have never had a clear career plan. I hope to be working with people who share my values that nursing makes a difference.
If you could change one thing in healthcare, what would it be?
Just once, when faced with major upheaval, I would like not to have to fight to ensure that nurses and midwives have a voice at the top table.
What would your ideal weekend involve?
A pedicure, a movie and time with special friends.
If you could spend an hour with someone, who would it be?
Bobby Kennedy to get the lowdown on the Kennedy White House and Condoleezza Rice to hear about being a black woman in the Bush White House.