Never underestimate the value of a nurse

 Ged Swinton 4 Jan 2021

2020 started with such promise for nurses and nursing, we were planning to celebrate the work that we do in the International Year of the Nurse and Midwife. The opportunity to show the world the way we as a profession contribute to everyone’s everyday life. It was planned to be a joyous showcase of how nursing contributes to the world.

As we all know 2020 did indeed show the world the way we as a profession, contribute to everyone’s life. COVID-19 has challenged each and every one of us personally and professionally.  Recently I saw a meme that spoke to me:

“Remember when everyone thought nurses were timid and submissive doctors' helpers and then along came a global pandemic, and the world finally realised a nurse is like the swiss army knife of healthcare providers and will find 10 million ways to save your life?”

It finishes by saying “never underestimate the value of a nurse”.

The world has seen nurses at the centre of the health response to COVID-19, infection prevention is a key common skill that all nurses share, the versatility of nurses who have left their specialist areas and learned new skills supporting others and putting their own lives at risk. Nurses have been key in planning and delivering the response to COVID-19 and of that we can be justifiably proud. COVID-19 has focused the value of keyworkers in all walks of life. With the variety and versatility of nursing in particular.

Nursing as a profession is exhausted from the workload that COVID-19 has piled on us in addition to the “normal” winter pressures and no amount of central government funding will solve that problem in the short term; it takes time and dedication to become a nurse, it’s not a career that everyone will find fulfilling. Many nurses are considering their future in the profession with a reported 60% of nurses considering leaving the job. Nurses have had their real value demonstrated to the world in no uncertain terms.

The pressures nurses face in 2021 will continue to be the ones that we have faced year on year - poor pay in relation to the skills we possess, often inadequate staffing and the normalisation of crisis working patterns or conditions particularly compounded by winter pressures that last all year round.

These are long term issues that we have normalised to become just what we have to do and work with. We do this to cope with the sometimes overwhelming situations around us. Nurses are by nature people who cope, I have often remarked that if the hospital fell down around us, we would care for patients in the ruins if we had to.  

We are seen as versatile and capable often at our own personal expense, missing breaks, long shifts, extra shifts to cover absence, taking ownership for others problems often being asked by seniors “I know you’re short but what can I do?”. The answer is in my mind that those who make decisions should be held accountable for those decisions not the people affected by the decision.

We can do things differently in 2021, we can follow the meme “never underestimate the value of a nurse”. We should hold decision makers to account when we are placed in less than ideal situations, poor staffing should be reported on every occasion in writing and a written response outlining the risk and mitigation should be demanded. We must ensure that the upcoming pay award is substantial and puts nurses first for a change. A 20% reduction in real terms over the last 10 years has only contributed to the 40,000 nurse vacancies in the NHS and more in the independent sector. We are skilled valuable professionals that cannot easily be replaced. Now is the time to do something. Being passive achieves nothing. Our Scrap the Cap campaign removed the 1% cap on nursing pay, sadly the following pay offer was poor but that is past and cannot be changed. Being active communicating with your branch and board is vital. There are tens of thousands of RCN members in the South East, with only a small percentage active. If we all did small things, they would quickly add up to great things. Got an idea of what may work? Let your branch committee know or contact the board directly, we may be able to facilitate your plan and work with you.

2020 has passed, COVID-19 will pass and things will return to “normal”. We can change “normal” to good pay for nurses, adequate staffing directed by law, safe working conditions, nurses’ voices heard.

2021 gives us all that opportunity.

I will finish by saying: 
Never underestimate the value of a nurse.
Never underestimate the power of nurses.
Let’s work together to make “normal” better. 

If you have any comment you would like to make to me, the South East board chair, please do not hesitate to get in touch:

Stay safe and Happy New Year.

Ged Swinton

Ged Swinton

South East Board Chair

Ged is the South East Board Chair and Chair of the Southampton and Isle of Wight Branch. Ged is a long standing RCN Steward and Clinical Nurse Specialist at Southampton General Hospital.

Page last updated - 04/01/2021