Why nurses must help lead the NHS

The NHS is robust. And part of that is due to the passion of its workforce. Since its beginning in 1948, the service has met each new challenge with vigor. But never before has it’s existence been under such threat. And with it, the safety of a nation. And there is no one more qualified to save it than those who fight on the frontline. I sat down with Wendy Preston, head of nursing practice at the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) to learn how nurses can save the NHS.

Nurses are leaders

Wendy is inspirational. Dissatisfied with the limitations of patient care, she chose to take a senior role in designing new ways to help them. In her tenure as head of nursing practice, she has prioritized innovation as the key. And she is under no illusion that Nurses are well placed to deliver. She told me:

Nurses are leaders of patient care. We coordinate with social care and hospitals and act as an advocate for our patients. Sometimes this means putting new ideas forward to solve problems. The job reflects innovation, and we need the right people to do the job. Nurses lead local policy.

But with cuts to funding, record nurses leaving the profession and care increasingly privatized, innovation must be met with commitment. And in this case, investment. Wendy believes that all nurses can lead, and with the proper training, that their input could be invaluable. Designing new policies with such expertise and experience could be the solution to a rapidly worsening problem. She said:

We have a fantastic NHS, and we want to look after it. But we need funding. At the moment we do innovation on our own time, working extra unpaid hours. We have the power to lead, but need the apparatus to do it. 

Nurses are experts

With the frontline so stretched, nurses are expected to care for patients and improve services. This is no easy feat, and requires self-sacrifice. But the combination of huge coal face experience met with savvy, and a business mind means a nurse can see the bigger picture. And who better to tell us what that means than campaigner and nurse Danielle Tiplady. She told me:

We work on the front line and see the end results of government policy. We know what works and what doesn’t. We are degree trained, highly skilled and work with evidence. We are also the biggest workforce and know the patient from hospital to home.

But regardless of their expertise, it seems that the opportunities for nurses aren’t reflective of their potential. Low pay, inflexibility and work commitments prevent nurses from even being able to enter the race to making big change. But when you see Nurses like Wendy and Danielle, it’s clear that the NHS could benefit. Danielle said:

What we need to get nurses into senior positions is a change in wider society. We need to feel empowered, not demoralized, to make a change. We can’t afford to take on extra training.

The saving grace

At about four years old I was sent to hospital. I have little memory of the stay, but one that stands out is the familiar uniform at my bedside. I was confused and scared, but this kind lady went a long way to reassuring a young child that everything would be OK. And my experience is just one of millions, be they young, old, dying or recovering, the reliable face of caring nurses works wonders.

But nurses are not simply a warm hand. Modern nurses are leaders, patient advocates and stoic bulwarks against system failure. Their dedication to using their knowledge to improve services is a no-brainer for designing future policy.  The current issue with NHS design is a lack of accountability, bureaucrats behind closed doors. A genuinely open democracy mandates the inclusion of the workforce, and nurses are perfectly placed to have say.

So the answer is obvious. With a proven track record of patient care, leadership skills and a passion next to none, nurses are fundamental to saving the NHS. It’s time we took their knowledge and placed it where it belongs, driving the NHS toward ventures practical and life-saving. And that means focussing time, money and trust in the nurses who strive every day.

And as any four year old would know, sometimes when you are scared, you need heroes.

I would bet on Wendy and Danielle any day.

Ben Janaway is a physician in the United Kingdom.

Image credit: Shutterstock.com

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