This article was originally published in a special Nursing Times edition celebrating the 75th anniversary of the NHS.
As the NHS celebrates its 75th anniversary, it’s a great time to reflect on the changing role of nurses and the tremendous impact that nurses have had on patients, their care, the development of the nursing profession, and the NHS.
Nurses have been the lifeblood of the NHS since its inception, and I’ve seen how the professionalism and respect towards the role of the nurse has grown and changed over time.
My own journey within the NHS spanned over 35 years until my retirement. Nurses initially had limited career options and perhaps expectations.
Apart from the coveted sisters or matron’s role, career progression would generally be a move into management or teaching at a school of nursing. It wasn’t until the 1970s that nurse specialist roles developed, with the value placed on clinical work that enhanced patient care.
This change was supported by forward-thinking medical colleagues, although not all agreed. I remember a doctor telling me that nurses didn’t need degrees because “the doctors tell them what to do”. A sign of times passed, one hopes.
I have had the pleasure of meeting and working with countless brilliant, inspiring and resilient nurses. I have encountered some incredible nurses, especially in my own field of respiratory, who have pushed boundaries and set up incredible ground-breaking services. These individuals have proved the value that nurses can bring to patient care and service provision.
Today, with over 300,000 nurses working with the NHS, we continue to play a vital role in the delivery of care for our patients. However, we face many challenges ahead, including recruitment challenges and an ageing workforce.
As nurses, we need to inspire others to follow in our foot-steps, to continue to grow the profession and expand roles available. But to fly we need to be allowed to spread our wings. We need not be too constrained by deadlines, targets and doing what we always have done. With change comes innovation. We need to lead, not to follow.
I hope the marking of the NHS’s 75th anniversary gives us cause not only to celebrate but also to inspire new nurses into a fantastic, challenging and rewarding career.
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 Nurses.co.uk. Stats And Facts On The UK’s Nursing Workforce 2023. Available at: https://www.nurses.co.uk/blog/stats-and-facts-uk-nursing-social-care-and-healthcare/
 The King’s Fund. The NHS nursing workforce – have the floodgates opened? Available at: https://www.kingsfund.org.uk/blog/2022/10/nhs-nursing-workforce