That was a question reflected upon during a session at the recent Health and Care Innovation Expo in Manchester. The session was led by Professor Jane Cummings, Chief Nursing Officer for England, who spoke about encouraging system leaders and the media to champion the nursing and midwifery professions; our need to retain our nurses, and attract and keep the very best talent by reigniting pride within and respect for our professions. This is at the heart of the Transforming Perceptions of Nursing and Midwifery programme – and for these goals to be successful we need to ensure that nurses and midwives are at the heart of policy development.  

In real terms, being at the heart of policy development means being able to influence the direction of the professions, and of health and care in general. We nurses and midwives can help ourselves by standing up to be counted. As Jane said, 

“Nurses and midwives need the confidence to be able to influence - we are not JUST a nurse or JUST a midwife.” 

So a challenge I would like to offer to my nursing and midwifery colleagues is to be proud of your profession, and of everything that you do. A really simple way of doing this is by adding your professional qualifications to your email signature and Twitter bio. This is the September challenge as part of the Perceptions programme. If you haven’t already, you can also sign up to the perceptions programme – the upcoming months’ challenges offer a wealth of opportunities and learning to help you get your voice heard, and be at the heart of policy development.

Decision makers (in this case I mean senior leaders, those in positional power) have a huge role to play in ensuring nurses and midwives are at the heart of policy development. During the Expo session, Mark Radford Deputy Director of Nursing at NHS Improvement asked “Why you wouldn’t ask nurses and midwives to impact on the changes in your organisation?" This would seem to be obvious – the majority of nurses and midwives are on the front-line, caring for patients every single day. So, why isn’t this happening? 

In the concurrent tweet chat front-line nurses and midwives said how they wanted to talk about their ideas, but didn’t always know who to take their ideas to – or whether those ideas would be listened to. There is a simple solution to this: Jacqueline Dunkley-Bent, Head of Maternity, Children and Young People at NHS England and National Maternity Safety Champion for the Department of Health, talked about the importance of senior leaders walking the wards and being a regular friendly supportive face, and being present to the front-line. She said: “Leaders need to be bothered about what every nurse and midwife has to say - be proximal and physically visible to make management decisions authentic.” 

Newly qualified nurse Charlotte Hall, who was also on the panel, echoed this, saying “Be human, be present, and don’t send surveys,” as did an audience member who said: “Bring in more conversation at all levels, asking front line staff “what do you think?” – and of course, listening and acting on what is said. 

A challenge I would like to pose to decision makers in health and care across the country is: do you know what the main issues affecting nurses and midwives in their organisation are? Do you do all they can to help your organisation’s front-line nurses and midwives get their voices heard? If not, it’s never too late to start. It is by working together, and by supporting one another that we can transform the perceptions of nursing and midwifery, and ensure that our patients continue to receive the quality care that they deserve. Have your say.