International Nurses Day: Time for reflection

Posted on the 12th May 2017

Linda Partridge, WellChild Director of Programmes reflects on her time as a children’s nurse and discusses the challenges faced by the profession today.

Florence Nightingale’s, ministering angels, superheroes, comforters, care givers and healers. These are just some of the words used by patients and families to describe nurses, usually at a time when they are at their most vulnerable and dependent on the care that they need.  For others the exact role and skills of nurses is not always fully understood or appreciated.

In 1859, Florence Nightingale wrote “the elements of nursing are all but unknown” and this is probably still true today. For although nursing is associated with the actual practical aspects of giving care there is still a perception – although hopefully diminishing – that the role of the nurse is to simply support Doctors. Nothing could be further from the truth.

the elements of nursing are all but unknown

Florence Nightingale

There is absolutely no doubt that the image and perceptions of nurses has changed massively over the years – even the uniform quickly evolved from white starch caps, aprons and neck collars to trousers and even polo shirts!  So how should we be describing nurses – especially children’s nurses?

I still remember the first time I put on my nurses uniform – a rather fetching blue dress with white paper cap. For as long as I could remember I had wanted to be a children’s nurse and at that moment felt so proud. That feeling has never left me, even though I am no longer a nurse, and as I progressed through my training and then chose the area I wanted to specialise in, I think that sense of pride and professionalism and wanting to give the best care to my patients, only got stronger.

So today on International Nurses Day 2017, I find myself not only reflecting on my own very positive experience of being a children’s nurse but reviewing the role of children’s nurses today.

That sense of pride was also there when the first WellChild Nurse was funded 10 years ago as part of the new children’s complex care team in South Birmingham. Since then the network has grown and developed across the UK and the model of care provided by this highly skilled team has enabled hundreds of children and young people with exceptionally complex health needs, who would have previously been in hospital long term, to receive the best care and then finally be discharged home.

Highly respected within their local areas they often go above and beyond for families whatever the circumstances or challenges – more than a job.

Linda Partridge, WellChild Director of Programmes

Reality however is that they are working in challenging times. Not a day goes by when there is not a story in the media about the NHS or we hear stories from friends or family members about problems they have had with long waiting times, limited access to treatments or cancelled operations. Concerns about there not being enough nurses and doctors, not being able to get patients home, cuts in community health services all feature regularly in the media.

What however is more shocking is that these are now the norm rather than isolated instances. And this is not just an adult issue. Families of some of the most vulnerable children and young people, like those currently supported through the WellChild Family Tree face exactly the same challenges. Parents suddenly find themselves as part of a growing unpaid nurse workforce, their children dependent on them providing complex nursing interventions 24/7. This was clearly demonstrated in the video diaries and family experiences shared as part of the recent #Notanurse_but campaign.

Children’s nurses are also dealing with many different challenges. Despite this however, and with so many ongoing uncertainties and unknowns, they remain committed to providing the best quality care. The sad fact however is that it does not have to be like this. Indeed it should NOT be like this. We should be ensuring that nurses are able to focus on what they do best without feeling constantly challenged and undervalued. I am not saying that I did not experience challenges but I always felt respected and highly valued and this was, and still is, so important. Action is urgently needed, not platitudes.

There needs to be an unwavering commitment to ensuring the right future for children's nurses and absolute confidence in the important role they play in the lives of so many families from those tasked with making such important decisions about the NHS and nurses. We owe it to the children, young people and their families who depend on it.

Linda Partridge, WellChild Director of Programmes

So as I reflect fondly on my own experience, I am so pleased that I took that career path and still have the opportunity to work every day with such brilliant children’s nurses – including the rather fabulous WellChild Nurses.

And so finally on International Nurses Day 2017 how would I describe the children’s nurses of today? Highly skilled, committed, and dedicated professionals – absolutely! Not always great at acknowledging their own value – definitely! It is also great that there are many more opportunities open to children’s nurses including becoming advanced nurse practitioners, specialist nurses, nurse prescribers, researchers, and consultant nurses, but more than ever we need to value the experience and expertise of all nurses and especially those working with children and young people.

I have always hated nurses being described as angels, but make no apology at all in saying that in so many ways they are actually superheroes!

Linda Partridge, WellChild Director of Programmes

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