International Nurses Day 2020: government must encourage more ‘NHS Heroes’

Make nursing more attractive to applicants, urges Dr Paula Holt, University of Derby, on International Nurses Day

International Nurses Day, which recognises the work and contribution of nurses across the world, is celebrated on 12 May – Florence Nightingale’s birthday.

This year marks 200 years since her birth. Florence Nightingale is recognised as the ‘founder of modern nursing’. She had a significant and lasting impact on society, public health and health care – professionalising nursing, pushing legislation that revolutionised sanitation, and proving herself a trailblazing statistician.

Her legacy resonates today as the significance and value of nursing is being celebrated across the media during the Covid-19 pandemic. The public are demonstrating their respect and gratitude for our ‘NHS heroes’: nurses, doctors, allied health professionals and social care workers who are doing what they always do – putting patients first and demonstrating care, compassion and courage.

Nursing has evolved from what was once viewed as a vocational role, to the highly educated healthcare profession is it today. The skills, competences and knowledge that nurses have acquired through education and innovation are not always recognised by the public, but current events have brought their qualities into sharper focus.

Currently we are seeing a 196% increase in interest in health careers, so it is timely for government to capitalise on this

Currently we are seeing a 196% increase in interest in health careers (www.healthcareers.nhs.uk), so it is timely for government to capitalise on this and escalate measures to support and encourage universities to increase their nursing student numbers, as well as incentivise individuals to become nurses.

Investing further in universities to enhance the nursing workforce is essential to our NHS who, prior to this pandemic, described nursing as being at ‘crisis level’ with record levels of vacancies. However, the nursing degree not only supplies much-needed workforce but impacts on society and our economy. This degree has led to students from a much wider demographic coming into higher education, changing the lives of many who are the first in their family to go to university, enhancing their life chances and wellbeing.

Many just qualifying feel aggrieved that following their desire for a career that makes a difference to the lives of others has left them with sizeable debt

Making nursing more attractive to applicants and retaining the students we have on nursing degree programmes remains a key priority during this pandemic.

On a truly full-time programme of theory and practice placements, these students have limited time to work, and if they do paid work risk not being able to keep up with their studies. The introduction of the maintenance grant from September 2020 for all nurses and allied health professionals is welcomed by future students, but we have many just qualifying who feel aggrieved that following their desire for a career that makes a difference to the lives of others has left them with sizeable debt.

2020 is the International Year of the Nurse and the Midwife, and the year in which health and care professionals are more recognised and revered for their contribution to world health than ever before.

Their professionalism, expertise and knowledge, complemented by strong values and commitment to caring, is delivered through a solid university education. Their graduate-level education equips them to deliver safe, competent care, but also offers opportunities for progression to advanced nursing education, research and enhanced professional roles, including at the policy level, which can drive improvements in population health, continuing the work Florence began almost two centuries ago.

Dr Paula Holt is pro vice-chancellor dean of the college of health and social care at the University of Derby.


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