Good luck to the new Nursing and Care Quality Forum as it sets off on its crucial programme of work. It could not be focused on anything more important.
Nursing has faced a series of critical reports in recent years and there is a groundswell of opinion - some thoughtful, some mindless and populist - that the profession has 'lost its way'. From being 'angels' and heroes, we have become objects of some anger, contempt and derision. But does it matter? The vast majority of the public knows that the vast majority of nurses are hard-working and well-educated, an essential part of the team that looks after them when they need it. What does it matter if a few exceptional 'bad apples' get undue attention?
It matters because, rightly or wrongly, people extrapolate from what they read and see about the exceptions. So it is important that the new Forum looks closely and honestly at what is happening to the quality of caring as delivered by nurses - and why - so they can help us to understand ourselves and the influences that determine how we deliver our craft.
There is nothing sacred in the reputation of nursing. For many years, prior to Florence Nightingale's intervention, it was regarded as the province of religious sisters or drunken paupers. Even long after the inception of the Nightingale School at St. Thomas's, and the arrival of respectable ladies with impeccable training, William Rathbone could write that 'Any ordinary nurse … if paid more than the usual salary of £10, would most probably have incurred dismissal for drunkenness after the first quarter-day.'
In the 21st century, nursing is being re-evaluated again by the public. It is no longer a closely-controlled workforce of respectable ladies whose every move and action is dictated by rote. We live in the modern world, while continuing to deliver on the profession's original promise to patients of care, compassion, expertise and advocacy. This challenge is the meat and drink of the forum's work, and we should wish them the time, space and intelligence they will need to succeed.
Rosemary Cook, director, Queen's Nursing Institute