As nurses, we like to think of ourselves as respected professionals, using skills and knowledge to restore people to health, or assist them to a peaceful death. It is rewarding and boosts our sense of having something to give to the world. No wonder it is a shock and a difficult adjustment if we become a patient ourselves.
Imagine how much more difficult it would be to become, not a patient, but a person in financial need. Instead of a problem-solver and rescuer, to be a supplicant, unable to manage, needing others' help in a matter which is laden with value judgements and negativity. Many retired nurses, brought up in a generation which regarded debt or poverty as shameful, find it difficult to ask for help. Older working nurses, unused to the mountains of debt that burden young graduates today, also feel a sense of failure if they need financial help.
Even if, as is often the case, it is a traumatic life event such as a marriage break-up or devastating illness that causes the problem. The QNI has been giving financial assistance to nurses for more than 100 years. In that time, the world has changed radically, as has the nature of the need. Then, there was no pension provision for Queen's Nurses, and, as they were unmarried women, they had few sources of support when they retired. The small amounts given by the Institute were lifelines.
Now, even with pensions and benefits, it is sobering to realise how much nurses can rely on additional help to attain a reasonable standard of living. Last year we gave an additional ‘needs' payment to help beneficiaries through the exceptionally cold winter weather.
Among the cards and letters of thanks, two stood out. One said ‘I have now turned my heaters up a bit, and keep them on a bit longer.' Another said ‘I have put my storage heaters on for the first time in 18 months.' The need for help has not gone away and these nurses are neither failures nor scroungers.
We are proud to be able to help them. If you or a colleague need financial help, visit www.qni.org.uk for details of assistance we can offer.
Rosemary Cook, director, Queen's Nursing Institute