How can we empower nurses today?
Well, I think before answering that question it is worth spending a brief moment to pause and consider why we need to even be asking this question. It assumes that somehow we lack potency, we have something holding us back, keeping us from maximising our impact. Is this fair? We have clear well defined leaders (whether or not you agree with what they say) both in terms of the office of the chief nursing officer and also professional bodies – NMC and the most popular nursing union the RCN. We have the government promise of 50,000 more registered nurses, more hospitals being built and politicians across the main political parties scrabble to tell us how they think nurses are wonderful and how they are going to support us as a profession.
This week, the Nursing standard reported on an NMC review that found nurses can feel unable to take a break and some are even getting renal damage from lack of hydration . The review stemmed from concerning survey results of almost 2,250 nurses undertaken by the nursing standard that reported that 8 out of 10 respondents had gone an entire shift without a drink of water. An issue that Ruth May, Chief Nurse has clearly stated should not be happening and yet despite this, for some reason, we are unable to ensure something that is a basic right across our profession. I’m not going to speculate on what those reasons are, I suspect there is a complexity to them beyond the surface, but this clearly is not only unacceptable but shouldn’t be happening. There are other examples I could give but I think this is enough to make my point.
So yes, I’d say that it is a valid question.
How do we empower nurses? Well, I guess we have to figure out where the potency is being sapped and go from there. Is that enough though? Empowerment is always dependent on the empower-er. Those that “allow” us the power, that can take it away when they wish. I would argue that we should not just seek empowerment that is subject to permission and submission but that we, as a profession, seek to defines where those boundaries lie, with the aim of improving patient care. We don’t do this in isolation though. The system is important and it’s not something we can change overnight.
If you feel able to, maybe talk to your directors of nursing and nurse consultants; do they regularly spend time on the wards? If you are a nurse consultant or director of nursing, how are you ensuring these issues come directly to your attention and how do you act to advocate for staff who find themselves in these situations? Do Trust governors (staff or otherwise) act as an effective chain in the link to the Trust leads; do they know that these things go on and how do you hold them to account to ensure they don’t accept them as the norm. If you are a non-staff governor do you know what goes on in your hospitals and Trusts? Have you visited and checked? How do you empower nurses? What is this empowerment dependent on? Is the culture conducive to staff coming forward to say when things are not right and make suggestions for how they can be improved?
I’ve focussed on Trusts and I am aware there are many other places nurses work. I’m also aware that there are places that are superb at ensuring the staff voice is heard right across the professions and grades and you might feel that what I have said is not an accurate portrayal of your particular workplace. Would you be willing to share how your place of work has sought to empower nurses? What examples of good practice can you tell us about?
Let’s not just survive, let’s build each other up to thrive.