Last month, I attended RCN Congress. It was enlightening, exhilirating at times, exhausting, and a thrill to put faces to names and talk to, as Peter Carter would say, hard-working nurses.
Aside from the highlights, such as speeches by Sir Robert Francis and Peter Carter, Roy Lilley proved he has an alternative career as a stand-up, and the debates were informative. Some were memorable and moving. The debate on practice nursing was rousing, despite all the speakers being in agreement. The resolution proposed that the RCN lobby for a national qualification and structured career pathway in practice nursing. Nurses spoke passionately in favour of better training, a formal qualification and a career pathway for PNs. Several speakers expressed incredulity that the situation had not advanced since the early 1990s, when practice nursing was in its infancy.
Of course, the resolution was passed almost unanimously. But is it enough? There is a perception that the RCN has long ignored practice nursing. Although any support it can offer is to be applauded, is this commitment to lobby for PNs too little too late? The DH's long-awaited vision for practice nursing has been tipped to materialise before the autumn, and can be expected to spark debate that will raise the profile of practice nursing, among nurses, student nurses and the public. Shouldn't the RCN have lobbied on PNs behalf a couple of years ago,shaping the vision?
What is needed is political will and national decision making. A coming together of all interested bodies, the RCGP, RCN, BMA, the DH and HEE, with a determination to improve general practice and out-of-hospital care by elevating the training and status of practice nurses. What practice nursing really needs is a national strategy, plan and dedicated budget. PHE's population health and personalised care agenda places PNs at the forefront of preventative healthcare. Yet without investment and training, how can PNs deliver their part in PHE's agenda? The RCN must be instrumental in improving the profile and standing of practice nurses, and be central to any plans and decision making to better represent this neglected branch of nursing.