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2020 is the Year of the Nurse and the Midwife, it’s time we stop undervaluing them and realise the potential

2020 is the Year of the Nurse and the Midwife, it’s time we stop undervaluing them and realise the potential
4 min read

To commemorate the Year of the Nurse and Midwife, Lord Crisp calls on the Government to show they are investing in nurses, which will improve health, promote gender equity, and strengthen local economies.

This year is a chance to celebrate the wonderful work that nurses and midwives do around the world today and to commemorate the work of Florence Nightingale and other great nurses such as Mary Seacole. But we should also take the opportunity to understand how far nursing and midwifery has come in recent years and recognise their great potential for the future.

Nurses and midwives are half the health workforce globally but are too often undervalued and unable to work to their true potential. In some parts of the world they are still treated as little more than doctors’ handmaidens rather than as the true professionals they are.

Here in the UK we are doing better than most countries but still have some way to go. We have increasing numbers of nurse-led clinics for long term conditions such as diabetes, COPD and dementia. Nurses are playing a larger role in primary care. We have advanced nurse practitioners as first responders in emergencies and taking a lead in other services and there are nurse specialists in many areas. Moreover, nurses generally have a holistic approach to health and are excellent at patient care and persuasive in health promotion and disease prevention.

We will see more of these developments in the coming years – to the benefit of us all and to the benefit of the other professional groups. The evidence shows us that high quality health care is provided by teams with each person playing their part to the full. If we enhance the roles of nurses and midwives, we will enhance the whole team and all its members. It is not a zero-sum game.

Four years ago the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Global Health undertook a review of nursing globally and published a report Triple Impact which showed that we won’t achieve Universal Health Coverage globally without strengthening nursing, that nurses worldwide are systematically undervalued and unable to work to the “top of their licence”, and that enhancing nursing will have the triple impact of improving health, promoting gender equity,  and strengthening local economies.

It seemed to us a no-brainer, but we couldn’t get the development agencies to act so Baroness Mary Watkins and I set up Nursing Now as a campaign to improve health globally by raising the profile and status of nurses. Our timing was perfect and the campaign took off virally. There are now 550 Nursing Now Groups in 112 countries.

Very conveniently 2020 is Florence Nightingale’s Bicentenary and it has been designated as the Year of the Nurse and the Midwife by the World Health Organisation. It is a chance to celebrate nursing and midwifery. Nurses and midwives around the world are leading the way – the Scottish nurses have registered a nurses’ tartan, there are African songs and two wonderful nurses who worked for 40 years with some of the most excluded people in Korea have been put forward for the Nobel Peace Prize.

But it is also a chance to recognise that nurses and midwives can have an even bigger impact on our lives if we provide then with the right support and investment. We need to make this happen. Countries as diverse as Pakistan, Uganda and Mexico are already investing in developing their nurses.

In my oral question I will be asking the Minister what more the Government is doing to increase the numbers of Advanced Nurse Practitioners and how they are going to reverse the decline in community nursing numbers. These are two important measures that will help take some of the pressure off the NHS and they will be markers of the determination of Government to celebrate nursing and midwifery and enable them to achieve their potential.


Lord Crisp is a Crossbench Member of the House of Lords. 

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