Nurses have the most important job in the world and we need your support

The day before my dad died, I stood outside his bedroom listening to him shriek with laughter.

His nurse, Cheryl had a way of making him laugh that made it impossible to believe he had very little time left.

By then I had been a nurse myself for many years. But it was as a relative, on the other side of the fence, that I began to appreciate the true importance of my profession.

Nursing is so much more than holding a person’s hand, even during their darkest hours.

Cheryl, like all registered nurses, was an expert, a leader, an advocate and a rigorous academic who had studied and gained experience, skills and knowledge in all manner of specialties through her nursing career: biology, anatomy, chemistry, pharmacology, physics, math, psychology, anthropology and sociology, as well as art and humanities, law, literature, poetry, history, and politics.

Nursing is sometimes social work, research, teaching and even police work. They are detectives, gathering clues in order to understand the puzzle of a patient’s life, understanding that their illness is just one small piece.

It is the balance of head and heart, critical thinking and creative compassion that is unique, essential and often misunderstood.

Cheryl’s excellent nursing skills meant that my dad died with dignity, peace and even humour.

He was himself until the very end, a death that we all deserve.

Nurses are there with us before we are born and once we have died, and will often go to their patients’ funerals. Cheryl even came to my dad’s funeral, and pops by to visit my mum seven years later.

So it was after my dad died that I realised that what I did every day, what all nurses do, is perhaps the most important job in the world.

It was this realisation that compelled me to write The Language of Kindness, about my 20 years nursing.

Since publication, I’ve been lucky enough to travel throughout the UK and further afield, meeting the cobweb of nurses who are largely invisible.

Despite this, they care for our most vulnerable – in prisons, police custody centres, schools, detention centres, care homes, hospices, primary care settings, homeless health teams, mental health and learning disability settings and everywhere else you can think of.

Because nurses touch us all at some stage in our lives. Each and every one of us.

Today marks International Nurses’ Day 2019.  Nurses and midwives are working harder than ever before, leading compassionate and evidence-based healthcare for an increasingly complex population of patients.

Research says that the NHS will be 42,000 nurses short by 2020 – exhausted nurses are being driven out of our overstretched health service.

A recruitment drive is planned for tens of thousands of foreign nurses to fill the gaps. Meanwhile, as the current political mess is costing billions, almost 5000 European nurses and midwives have left the NHS in the last two years.

Nurses in England have had their training bursary completely removed, in a move that the Royal College of Nursing have told ministers has been a ‘total disaster’, causing a drop in applications by a third.

It’s more important than ever to say thank you to nurses for all they do. I hope you join me today in celebrating the incredible nursing profession and look after those who look after us.

Today, and every day, there is much to celebrate, despite the enormous challenges. I cannot think of a more varied, rewarding and challenging career to be proud of, a job that makes so much difference to many people’s lives.

Let’s remind nurses, society and politicians how much we value their expert care.

Let’s celebrate, eat cake, raise a glass and join the biggest nurses’ party of the year. Thank a nurse, hug them, cook them dinner.

Ask a nursing friend or family if they need help or support. Contact your local MP about the nursing bursary, about nurses’ pay and conditions and ask how they are addressing the issues and supporting nurses.

Nursing needs us. And we need our nurses.

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