As we enter Spring, and in my first Director’s message since taking over in the region, it seems appropriate we not only take stock of where we are as a region at this moment, but also look ahead at the challenges, opportunities and new beginnings ahead.
I am incredibly proud to be leading a membership of almost 60,000 nurses, health care assistants, Trainee Nurse Associates, students and retirees. Our collective voice and wisdom is so powerful. Almost 50% of our membership is from a black and minority ethnic background – a proper reflection of the make-up of the wider nursing community in London. As Regional Director, I will make sure that the diversity, equality and inclusion agenda is central to everything we do. Through the Inclusion Solution, we are already working hard to bring BME members, NHS Trust leaders, activists and other stakeholders together to create and implement workplace solutions to inequality in the workplace.
Living and nursing in London presents some incredible opportunities, but also some specific challenges. Working in some of the most advanced clinical and educational settings in the world is too often juxtaposed against staffing pressures, overstretched services and the non-too unfamiliar struggle of just trying to get by in an expensive city.
Sadly, the negative stories have won-out too many times. In leading the London region, I want to ensure that we always continue to fight the good fight - protecting members’ terms of conditions, demanding better resources for our services and challenging illogical and unsafe service transformations. But I also want us as a region to change the narrative and ensure that the challenges faced by nursing staff and the services they work in don’t continue to define what is a brilliant and rewarding career - equally, I know that we cannot change the narrative without also doing our best to change the material conditions of our members, at home and in the workplace.
In making London a place fit for nurses of today and in the future, I want to ensure that our nursing staff can afford to live and work in the capital. NHS Estates continue to be sold off, with no thought for the housing needs of health care workers. This year, RCN London will be putting the issue of affordable housing for nursing staff at the top of the agenda and will stand up to any organisation looking to sell of public NHS estates land for profit rather than public good. I am clear that nurses who care for Londoners, should not be restricted from enjoying the life of a Londoner too.
In London, the number of nurses from the EU working in our hospitals is twice the national average. As Brexit rumbles on, I want to take this opportunity to say ‘thank you’. I hope you all continue to see the city as your home and our hospitals and care settings as your workplace of choice. You, and other health care workers from across the world, are part of the DNA of our NHS and long may this continue.
I am also determined to raise the profile and give voice to the nursing specialisms that have suffered from years of neglect. Learning Disability nursing, health visiting, school nursing and those working in mental health and social care settings are fundamental to maintaining a healthy population and giving dignity to those in need. The media and politicians’ focus on the acute sector has often left these specialisms in the dark. We need to change that.
This message of course cannot pass without mentioning the NHS Pay Deal. I know it is being studied keenly by members up and down the country before all those employed by the NHS get the chance to vote to accept or reject. The RCN is urging members to accept the deal, which has been fought hard for by our negotiators. At RCN London we are arranging Extraordinary Branch Meetings and special workplace events where regional staff will be there to help explain the deal to you. If you haven’t yet found out what the deal means for you, you need to visit the pay calculator.
I’d like to sign off this message by encouraging all of us – from this day on - to stop referring to ourselves as ‘just’ nurses or ‘just’ health care assistants or ‘just’ nursing students. We deliver the overwhelming majority of care in a health system that remains the envy of many across the world. We should be proud of that.
When I came over from Dublin as a Registered Adult and Sick Children’s Nurse 21 years ago I believed Nursing in the UK offered a wealth of opportunity. I have been lucky enough to work in almost all sectors of nursing and from ward to board. I promise to fight hard so that those opportunities are yours to take as well.