Nursing is the most undervalued of all the professions. If how we treat our most vulnerable members is a measure of our society then the act of nursing itself, and how we treat our nurses, is a measure of our humanity. Nursing is in big trouble and this is a cross-party issue. This is bigger than we can imagine, it’s global. More nurses are leaving the NHS than are joining – we know that. But this isn’t just an NHS issue. In America, by 2022 they will be one million nurses short. That’s the biggest nursing shortage they’ve ever seen. I’m losing sleep about this but frankly we should all be losing sleep about this. Our population is getting older at an unimaginable rate and people have such complex needs. The world has changed and we’re yet to catch up. I wanted to write something about nursing but it’s so hard to get into language what it is we do, how important it is. It was my patients who were helping me to understand.
Nursing is hard to get into language because it’s not one thing or another thing - nursing is everything. Nursing is who we’re meant to be and why we are here, I feel that strongly about it. It predates history books. Although some of the earliest texts written about nursing describe nurses as ‘sympathic’, including a nurse in the first century BC in India. In the history of Islam, the first nurse was described as a good nurse and ideal because she was compassionate and empathetic. Sympathy, compassion, empathy. I often get asked if anyone could be a nurse. I’m sure neurosurgeons – not that I have anything against neurosurgeons – don’t get asked, can anyone be a neurosurgeon? Of course not everyone can be a nurse. I think that to be a great nurse you are born with sympathy, compassion and empathy, because the technical skills we can learn. Sympathy, compassion and empathy are the things that fall away first when nurses do not have time to care. Nursing is saying to people during their darkest hours ‘I am with you.’ It’s giving a chunk of your soul to somebody else.