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Happy International Nurses Day: “showing is more powerful than telling”

12th May 2021

In support of International Nurses Day (#NursesDay) on 12 May, a Voices blog from Alison Morton, Executive Director at the Institute of Health Visiting.

Alison Morton, Executive Director, iHV

12 May 2021 is “International Nurses Day” in the extended 2nd year of the International Year of the Nurse and Midwife!!

At the beginning of 2020, nurses and midwives from across the globe were excited at the start of a year which was dedicated to celebrating the very best of their professions. 2020 was meant to be a year to tell the world about our highly skilled and diverse workforce, with numerous events, publications and case studies planned – we were all set to join a united global effort to raise the profile of the professions and reflect on the difference that we make to the lives of so many.

And what a year it turned out to be – at the start of the year, who knew that we were all about to be tested by a global public health pandemic? All celebrations were put to one side as the professions got on with what they do best. Instead of telling the world why we need nurses, we collectively showed them through our actions. Showing the world provided us with a “megaphone” that was far louder than telling ever could have been.

The breadth of nursing is vast, impacting across the whole of humanity in every aspect of health and wellbeing; supporting people through their happiest and saddest of times, from the beginning of life until its end – and what a difference nursing has made in the last year.

Health visitors have played a crucial part in the pandemic response. Working as specialist public health nurses in the biggest public health pandemic in living memory tested their skills and leadership capabilities in ways that many had never experienced before. But there was a “silver lining”. Alongside the many challenges, this time also provided a unique opportunity for the health visiting profession to demonstrate its vital role, supporting children and families who have faced the brunt of the pandemic. As services scaled back, health visitors have been supporting families through the challenges of early parenthood which have been amplified due to additional stresses including job insecurity, isolation, growing poverty or learning how to manage a baby with additional needs with little support. Many more families have been tipped into vulnerability with ever increasing rates of mental health problems, domestic abuse and safeguarding concerns.

At the Institute, we have been raising the profile of health visitors, showing the impact of their work through case studies (see Making History: Health Visiting during COVID-19) and regular Voices blogs (if you haven’t read them, take a look at them here). The work of health visitors in the pandemic has also been showcased through the media and debated in Parliament. Health visitors should feel very proud of their achievements as they have kept on making a difference to babies, young children and their families on their own frontline of the pandemic.

12 May 2020 marked 200 years since the birth of Florence Nightingale, the world’s most famous nurse. Whilst Florence is best known for her work in establishing nursing as a profession, what is less well known is that she also identified health visiting as a profession in its own right and was responsible for the first stand-alone training for the profession. Florence was also the mother of statistics, understanding the importance of data and evidence to improve health outcomes and striving to see the valuable contribution of nursing recognised.

I can’t claim to speak for Florence from beyond the grave, but I do wonder whether she would be filled with a sense of pride as nurses across the globe have shown the world why their specialist skills are needed. Nurses have demonstrated their worth through their actions which have touched virtually every part of humanity and their skills will continue to be needed as we rebuild society.

It may take years before we know the full extent of the damage caused by the pandemic– what we do know is that babies, young children and their families need more support now. The evidence has never been stronger – health visitors have shown that they are a vital safety-net for families, using their specialist public health skills to provide support for a multitude of different needs. As the Government shapes its plans to “build back better”, health visiting should be top of the list.

Celebrate International Nurses Day

The Florence Nightingale Foundation has held an annual Florence Nightingale Commemoration Service at Westminster Abbey since 1965 to celebrate both the anniversary of Florence’s birth and International Nurses Day.  Whilst their annual Florence Nightingale Commemoration Service this year will look slightly different to previous years’ celebrations, they are able to offer everyone the opportunity to watch the event live online today, Wednesday 12 May, 5pm.

Alison Morton, Executive Director, Institute of Health Visiting