Theresa Fyffe: Time to invest in our caring nurses

The skills of nursing staff today would be unrecognisable to those who founded the Royal College of Nursing 101 years ago, at the height of the First World War.

Fast forward another 100 years and it’s an even ­certainty that nurses in 2116 will find how nurses work today equally inexplicable.

But what won’t change, I hope, is the care and compassion which has characterised the nursing profession since its earliest days.

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Yet today, with our health services under more ­pressure than ever before, many nurses are struggling to deliver the care they would like to for their patients because of staff shortages.

Modern nursing is ­complex, requiring high ­levels of skills, education and knowledge, as well as care and compassion. In community nursing, as an example, your district nurse can ­examine, treat and care for an older person in their own home and, using their ­clinical experience, enable older people to stay at home, rather than calling an ambulance and admitting them to hospital.

Such clinical decision-making is often misunderstood or overlooked by those ­unfamiliar with what ­modern ­nursing is all about.

The local councillors who sit on the Integrated Joint Boards which are now ­commissioning community health and social care services in Scotland may be familiar with balancing budgets and demand. But they now need to make informed ­decisions which look beyond those immediate challenges.

Yes, it’s crucial to recognise the value of all those who work in health and social care teams. But this should not come at the expense of registered nurses who have the clinical knowledge to save and extend the quality of ­people’s lives. Looking at all the available ­evidence, it’s clear that having the right number of professionally ­registered nurses is what most influences patient ­safety.

So Scotland will only be able to deliver great care into the future if it has the right number of nurses working in the right place at the right time. This takes investment in educating enough nurses and training and developing them throughout their careers. And it also means putting an end to the 14 per cent real time pay cut that those who care for us have endured over the last five years.

Many nurses are ­struggling to make ends meet. Pay restraint is a false ­economy. Ending it would help improve NHS staff morale; it would help retain staff and so reduce staff turnover and contribute to reducing chronic staff shortages, ultimately saving health boards from having to pay for expensive agency nursing staff.

Technology and advances in digital health are changing how services are delivered and the pace of change will undoubtedly speed up over the next 100 years.

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The skills nurses need will also adapt and change to meet these advances. So now is the time to start valuing nurses and investing in them for the future.

How else can we ensure the care and compassion which so characterise nursing will survive for another 100 years?

Theresa Fyffe is director of RCN Scotland.