By Andy Cook, Chief Nurse, Advantage Healthcare

As the NHS turns 70 it is rightly a time to celebrate the achievements and successes of a service that has met the needs of the nation over several generations. Nursing makes up the largest professional community within the NHS and, more widely, across health and social care. It is easy to talk about one profession being the ‘back bone’, or another ‘at the heart of’, the system, but it is difficult to envisage any of our health or care services operating without the nursing profession acting as not only the deliverer of high quality care but also as the glue that holds systems together.

There are 690,000 nurses and midwives on the NMC register, but only 300,000 of these work directly within the NHS, less than half. Whilst the value of nursing within the NHS is, quite rightly, recognized and lauded by the public, the role of nursing outside the NHS is less often recognized.

The wider health and care system in the country is supported by nurses in many different environments, many of whom work in services that directly support the NHS and the care of people it provides for. These services may involve long-term social care, support for surgical waiting lists or enabling people with long-term complex healthcare needs to live as independently as they can.

We must also recognize the value of nursing in the wholly independent care environment, providing expert patient-focused care to people who have chosen to fund it themselves, whether in hospital, home or care home establishments. Whilst there can be a healthy political or ideological debate about the rights or wrongs of this, those patients are people who deserve the same level of compassionate nursing care as each and every NHS funded patient.

So I do not think we should contextualise our celebration of the NHS purely in terms of NHS nursing. Nursing is a bigger community, the majority of us borne out of the NHS at some stage in our careers. Moving into other nursing environments does not mean a turning away from the principles or values of the NHS, indeed it often continues to promote those values by providing services that support and deliver the NHS objective.

However, wherever you find nursing you will find committed and dedicated care that puts the individual first and this, arguably, makes the model of funding for the person whose life we touch, very much a secondary concern. The NHS is amazing and I am proud to have learnt, developed and progressed as a result of the training it gave me; but I am proud also to lead nurses and care staff outside the NHS who work every day to support patients who rely on the NHS for their care, dignity and quality of life. Nursing and the NHS are forever entwined, whether in it or supporting it, and that is truly something to celebrate.

(First published in the RCN Executive Nurse Network Newsletter September 2018)

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