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Nursing and Midwifery

Volume 801: debated on Thursday 30 January 2020


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what plans they have to celebrate Florence Nightingale’s bicentenary and the World Health Organization’s Year of the Nurse and the Midwife in 2020.

My Lords, the Government are working with the Chief Nursing Officer for England on plans to celebrate the bicentenary of Florence Nightingale and those in the nursing professions. Plans include supporting the Nursing Now campaign across the NHS in England. The Chief Nursing Officer is also working in partnership with the Florence Nightingale Foundation to plan many activities, culminating in an international conference organised by the foundation and the Burdett Trust for Nursing in October 2020.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. This year is a chance to celebrate the legacy of great nurses and midwives of the past such as Florence Nightingale, notably, but also great figures such as Mary Seacole and others in this country and elsewhere. It is also a chance to celebrate today’s nurses and midwives, and thank them for what they do. In passing, I am delighted to be wearing a piece of the new nursing tartan, designed by Scottish nurses and commissioned just last month. However, this is also an opportunity to look again at nursing and midwifery, recognising how far the professions have developed in recent years and that they perform a very wide range of roles, all with customary care and compassion.

Nurses are true health professionals in their own right, no longer handmaidens to doctors—if they ever were—and have the potential in the future to do even more. With that in mind, I ask the Minister two questions. First, what plans do the Government have for investing in training and increasing the numbers of advanced nurse practitioners? Secondly, what plans do they have for reversing the decline in community nurses, school nurses and health visitors in this country, who will play such a vital role as services move more towards the community?

I thank the noble Lord for his important question. I am envious of his tartan and I definitely identify with his praise for nurses, who work long hours and serve the most vulnerable at the moments of their greatest need. To answer his specific questions, as part of the NHS people plan, we are committed to supporting career development for nurses, which includes supporting a diverse range of careers. An example would be the advanced practitioners within multi-professional teams. This is an important point that the noble Lord raises. We are also developing a plan for district and community nurses to work with healthcare providers, practitioners and higher education institutions. The plan will set out how we will grow the community nursing workforce, which includes mental health and learning disability nurses, and it is expected to be published later this year.

My Lords, might my noble friend not mark this important bicentenary by enabling those nurses who have been in the profession for, say, five or 10 years to have their student loans written off, given that the cost to the taxpayer of not doing so will be greater? The write-off in 30 years’ time for the taxpayer will be £1.2 trillion in cash terms, so why not help the profession and the taxpayer by doing this now?

The noble Lord has made this point before and I have taken it back to the department before. He will know that we are providing additional financial support to nurses, including the maintenance grant of £5,000 in non-repayable funding, with specific targeted support of £3,000. However, I am very happy to take back his proposal once again, as we have an upcoming Budget.

My Lords, is the Minister aware that the Royal Statistical Society is celebrating the election of its first woman fellow, Florence Nightingale, and that nurses play a very considerable part in the collection and processing of data that matter for public health, and all our health?

Yes, indeed. As the noble Baroness will know, Florence Nightingale was perhaps one of the earliest and most notable statisticians. She is a great role model for those young women who wish to go into STEM careers. One way in which we wish to mark this bicentenary is with the Nightingale Challenge, which calls for every employer of nurses globally to provide leadership and development training for young nurses and midwives in 2020. The aim is to have at least 20,000 nurses benefiting from it in 2020, with at least 100 employers taking part.

My Lords, it is right that we have congratulated nurses and celebrate them but it is also the year of the midwife. It is important that we celebrate the progression in midwifery. Midwives are often much less publicised for the work they do within the community. What plans are there for celebrating midwifery specifically during this year?

We are of course conscious that we need to support midwives, especially as we look to raise standards in midwifery. Specific plans are being developed by the Chief Nursing Officer, Ruth May, which will ensure that all parts of the nursing profession, including midwives, will be focused on. These will be brought forward shortly.

My Lords, given Florence Nightingale’s genius for exploring and combining very disparate fields of study and practice, including the worlds of healthcare and faith, will Her Majesty’s Government and the Minister join me in commending the work of parish nurses, who now bring health and healing to more than 100 communities around the country, complementing the work of both the NHS and social care agencies?

I absolutely agree with the right reverend Prelate on this issue. He will know that the long-term plan is committed to supporting and developing community care. Parish nurses are a key part of that, but so is the development of social prescribing, which we have committed to rolling out. I know that parish nurses work hand in hand with this programme, so I am pleased to agree with the points that the right reverend Prelate has made. We will also want to think carefully about how we can support the work that he is doing.

My Lords, the Minister mentioned the reimbursement of fees, which has been reintroduced. For non-mental nurse training, is this scheme as generous as that which was discontinued a couple of years ago, or do we reimburse only about 50% of the fees?

My Lords, until a few years ago, community nurses looked after the whole population in the area in which they worked. Lately, they have looked after only children up to the age of about five. Is it planned for them to go back to looking after the community as a whole, which is an important part of their work?

The noble Baroness is very knowledgeable about this. She is right that when we strengthen community practice, it is important to have a holistic approach. That is exactly what underpins the ICS having a much more joined-up approach to social care, general practice and mental health. It is what lies behind developing a holistic people plan. Such an approach will come forward when this is published.