Learn more about Baroness Audrey Emerton of Tunbridge Wells, whose unique and remarkable career has seen her become the first ever recipient of a special RCN award
Baroness Emerton, a senior nurse and patient advocate, was a much-loved member of the House of Lords for 22 years. Her long and distinguished service to nursing has been combined with a deep concern for people and a fierce defence of principle and practice.
She has always been forthright in upholding the highest standards of nursing care and has been a leading thinker in the development of the profession. She has been listened to because what she had to say was morally right and sensible. She has given unstintingly to the profession over many decades, showing particular dedication to encouraging nursing staff to take on leadership roles.
Baroness Audrey Emerton of Tunbridge Wells sat as a crossbench member of the House of Lords from 1997 to 2019. She was Chief Nursing Officer of South East Thames Regional Health Authority throughout the 1980s and served as a volunteer at St John Ambulance, and appointed Chancellor and Chief Commander before resigning in 2002. Invested as a Dame Commander Order of the British Empire in 1989, she received a life peerage in 1997.
One of Baroness Emerton’s greatest achievements was the closure of Darenth Park Hospital, an institution for people with learning difficulties, many of whom had been resident for more than 30 years. The plan was to transfer them into their community in the South East region. Following many attempts to ensure that these patients were prioritised for adequate accommodation and – where necessary – supervision, Baroness Emerton ensured that the key decisionmakers collectively solved the issues to achieve independent living for all patients.
Baroness Emerton has been a tireless advocate for total patient care and worked determinedly to achieve legislation to enable nurse prescribing resulting in patients being able to access treatments more quickly. Her maiden speech in the House of Lords highlighted issues for homeless people and the need to access quality health services which led to the setting up of homeless teams. Baroness Emerton has worked relentlessly using her voice to emphasise the value and importance of nursing at every opportunity – particularly during the many changes to health care in England.
This award reflects the outstanding contribution that Baroness Emerton has made to the profession in a career spanning over six decades
Baroness Emerton says: “I was amazed and very honoured to receive a letter from the President of the Royal College of Nursing informing me that I was to receive a lifetime achievement award, the first that the College has bestowed.
“This totally unexpected news thrilled but also humbled me as I have only spent my career doing what I had been trained to do and what I wanted to do. I thank the teams I have worked with and especially the five regional nurses who gave me such support in allowing me to complete a long-term project concerning patients with learning difficulties. I in turn thank everyone who has supported the work I have undertaken and give my very deep appreciation to the Royal College of Nursing for this tremendous honour.”
RCN President Professor Anne Marie Rafferty CBE says: “This unique lifetime achievement award marks another first for Baroness Emerton. Not only is it the first time we have given such an award, but it reflects the outstanding contribution that Baroness Emerton has made to the profession in a career spanning over six decades.
“Audrey has been a champion for the profession in her many roles in the voluntary sector, social care as well as the NHS. She has advocated tirelessly for nursing in the highest court in the land, the House of Lords, and played a pivotal role in arguing and petitioning for safe staffing during the previous government. There could be no more worthy recipient of this prestigious award and I am proud to bestow this honour on behalf of the College.”