Debate on International Nurses’ Day

Clare spoke in the debate on International Nurses’ Day, and talked about the role nurses play in service redesign and her own experiences in mental health nursing. A full transcript follows the video below.


I thank Emma Harper for lodging the motion.

Like her, I come from a family of nurses: I am married to a nurse and both my brothers are nurses. I am not sure that we have clocked up as many hours of nursing practice as Emma and her family, but we are getting there.

I refer members to my entry in the register of members’ interests: I am a registered mental health nurse and I hold an honorary contract with Greater Glasgow and Clyde NHS Board, which allows me to continue my practice as a nurse.

Florence Nightingale is often described as “The Lady with the Lamp” but, as we can all appreciate, she was so much more than that. Not only did she challenge expectations; she was a truly gifted healthcare professional, who was as skilled in the study of healthcare as she was in the creation of new standards and practices, was as committed to research as she was to statistical analysis, and was a true pioneer in the planning of hospitals and wards. She was an innovator—she introduced new strict cleanliness regimes that drastically reduced mortality on her wards, and she was compassionate, heading to the horrors of the Crimean war to help the wounded. Fundamental and radical service redesign is how nursing was born with Florence, and it is how it continues to stay relevant and at the forefront of healthcare.

My experience in mental health nursing has borne that out: there has been a concerted effort to reduce the stigma around mental illness, and we have encouraged people to access care and treatment at an earlier stage. We now talk about mental illness instead of shying away from it, which is a tremendous success that I have seen as a mental health nurse. However, those changes were difficult. Service users, carers, staff and the public were worried and concerned about bed and hospital closures, about services not meeting their expectations and about safety.

Change is the one constant for nursing; we develop and adapt to new ways of working and new practice. In short, we move forward with what works rather than sticking with outdated ways that do not deliver the results that we need. Florence Nightingale created and reformed nursing, in part by redesigning wards and improving outcomes of care by reframing the environment. In mental health nursing, we continue to follow that spirit of reform, by moving care away from existing models and hospital settings and into the community.

We have to be open to discussion about what can be done differently and more effectively in order that we can do what is best for our patients. “Service redesign” is a term that can still instil fear, but it is how nursing began. Changes to services can be challenging, but with the challenges come opportunities to make real and positive changes to real people’s lives.

This year, the ICN has chosen, as the theme for international nurses day, “Nurses: A voice to lead—Achieving the Sustainable Development Goals”. Every day, nurses’ work has a significant impact in delivering SDGs—not just in ensuring healthy lives and promoting wellbeing, but in areas such as education and poverty. Those social determinants of health are the conditions in which people grow, work and live, and the work of nurses across the world seeks to address those wider issues and not just immediate clinical needs.

Pauline Cafferkey, who is one of my constituents, is an exemplar of the dedication of nurses to help to improve the lives of people who face health and social challenges. Pauline and many other volunteer nurses have worked tirelessly to help people in Sierra Leone who have been affected by Ebola, and she herself became infected. Despite that, she is planning to return to Sierra Leone and will continue to help people who need assistance.

Pauline and our nursing staff here in Scotland are at the forefront of healthcare, with nearly 60,000 nurses working across the NHS in Scotland to improve the care and the lives of our fellow citizens. Every day, each of our nurses contributes to service redesign and to developing and redefining best practice—each carrying on the work of Florence Nightingale.

The RCN is running a Twitter thunderclap, in which we can all offer our support online. Through its nurse hero programme, we can also write about a nurse who has made a difference to our lives or the lives of our families.

I ask Parliament to join me in marking international nurses day on 12 May in a small way. Let us tell our nurses that we appreciate the amazing work that they do, and encourage the next generation of nurses, too.


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