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'When the chips are down, nurses know how to cope'

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It was with some trepidation that I approached the Nursing Times Future of Nursing conference. A lot of the morning’s agenda was dedicated to the white paper and its implications for nursing, and delegates I chatted to before the day kicked off felt the same.

But the tone of the day was much more about the potential for nursing in the light of the changes, and how this will positively impact their careers.

Howard Catton, head of policy at the RCN, was extremely upbeat in his engaging presentation. “You as nurses have a great future,” he told delegates. “And whatever the vision of government is, we must make sure that nurses are central to it,” he continued, urging them to get involved in consultations about the White Paper.

His belief was that you can not bury your head in the sand, and can’t do “health without politics”.

Several speakers echoed this opinion – Gail Adams of Unison spoke passionately about the impact any change in governmental vision would have on nurses, and urged them to stand up and be counted. “Tell us your views, confidentially if you are worried about your job. Share them with us,” she said, reassuring delegates that Unison would be working on their behalf throughout this process.

And Dr Kuldip Bharj OBE, agreed. She said: “Cuts do matter to nurses. Studies show nurses spend a third of their time on administration, and with cuts that would be even more.”

But the nurses among the delegates seemed positive about the role they could potentially play in the future NHS. One delegate from the Northeast told me that the conference cemented some ideas in her mind about a project she had been working on, and being able to see practical examples of what other NHS colleagues had achieved enabled her to have confidence that what she was doing was the right thing. Another believed that policy changes, while not necessarily beneficial, enabled her to review her structure and plan her workforce differently, and so she too was determined to see a silver lining.

Peter Carter, chief executive and general secretary of RCN, was also enthused about changing nursing to an all-degree profession. He ridiculed suggestions that nurses would be “too clever to care” and said that was not the same of others in the healthcare sector, and it was odd that people should say that of nurses, and that degrees would not let them lose their caring sides. And said that the concept had worked in Wales, where nursing has been a graduate profession since 2004, and in Northern Ireland it will become so next year. He pointed out that prescribing nurses have “the bar set high” before they can prescribe, and long may that stay the case, but said that nurses make excellent prescribers. It’s of course evidence of how diverse and vital the role of nursing has become. No wonder the future was hailed as something to embrace by most speakers yesterday.

Of course, the excellent conference facilities, superb catering and very charismatic chair in the NMC’s Tony Hazell could all have left people feeling a little more optimistic than if those ingredients had been lacking. Hazell rounded out the conference by saying: “I want to make nursing the career of choice.”

Married to a nurse himself, he knows firsthand the pride nurses have and reassured the room that they had his admiration and respect. This is a sentiment that I would definitely echo – when the chips are down. Nurses definitely seem to know how to cope exceedingly well.

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