The acid test of a civilised society is how it looks after its most vulnerable citizens.
Aneurin Bevan MP founder of the NHS said: “No society can legitimately call itself civilised if a sick person is denied medical aid because of lack of means.”
Amid the celebrations of our health service’s 70th birthday, there has been a welcome debate over how it needs to adapt to meet present and future challenges.
Nurses and midwives will be at the heart of that change and that future.
That’s why the Nursing Now initiative is so relevant to Northern Ireland.
It is a three-year global campaign run in collaboration with the International Council of Nurses and the World Health Organisation.
I am pleased to say its local launch is taking place this week.
The foundations of our profession are built on humanitarian values which stretch back to Florence Nightingale. We have a very proud history of providing and improving care in times of conflict, as well as securing advancement in science, sanitisation and health equality.
Nursing has a strong grounding in promoting social justice and taking action to promote the human rights of people at birth, throughout life and in old age.
In the words of Professor Sir Michael Marmot: “Nurses are the most trusted group of people. Rightly so. They treat individuals with compassion and care and have great potential to improve the health of communities through action on the social determinants of health.”
In 2015, the nations of the world signed up to the ambitious target of ensuring that everyone in the world should have access to healthcare and that no one is left behind.
Nursing Now champions that goal. It will raise the status and profile of nursing, and the vital role it plays in improving health, promoting gender equality and supporting economic growth.
Nurses and Midwives undertake different roles in different circumstances but they share expert knowledge, proficient practical skills and live the values of care and compassion.
They are on the frontline across this world helping people who are in need.
Here in Northern Ireland, we must prioritise work to improve the health inequalities which continue to divide our communities. In the least deprived part of the province, men live 6.6 years longer than their counterparts in most deprived areas. For women this figure is 4.5 years.
Mental ill-health is another huge challenge for our society. It’s the single biggest cause of disability with 1 in 5 people experiencing a significant mental health problem in their life.
Homelessness is one of the biggest scourges of our time and I have made tackling it one of my key priorities for the Nursing Now Campaign.
We know a homeless person is 20 times more likely to die from drugs and 50 times more likely to have hepatitis. Statistics like that should never be acceptable.
To ensure a bright future for this region, we also have to act on the damning statistics of childhood obesity, mental ill health and address drug and alcohol problems.
Nursing will be at the forefront of action in all these vital areas.
That is why I believe investing in nursing is investment in the economy and in generations to come.
There are over 22,000 nurses and midwives who make up 34% of the health and social care workforce here. Our world is changing and there are many global issues effecting healthcare including workforce supply. I know that our services and budgets are under considerable strain and there is no quick fix to the health workforce issues across these islands.
The Department of Health has taken forward initiatives to ensure we will have enough nurses going forward. In 2018, the additional investment made available through transformation funding has enabled us to increase the number of students studying nursing and midwifery to the highest ever level.
That is a significant achievement, but obviously more will need to be done.
This summer, increased investment in nursing made in 2016 will produce dividends, with increased registered nurses and midwives qualifying and taking up full time permanent posts.
It’s a challenging and uncertain time to begin what has always been a challenging yet hugely rewarding career.
I can’t think of a better job.
Chief Nursing Officer
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