On two sunny days recently, in two different parts of the country, I attended two different conferences. Both were focused on the quality of care that people get in their own homes. Both heard about innovations, technology, training and learning from patients. One audience was made up of community nurses and health visitors, the other of senior staff from major national charity, the British Red Cross.
What distinguished them was their demeanour. One audience was passionate, participative, full of energy and enthusiasm and keen to continue discussions over coffee and lunch. The other was quiet, well-behaved, obedient but reticent. You can probably guess which was which.
Life is not rosy in the charity sector. There never was a guaranteed income and cutbacks in public services have greatly increased demands on charities. Even large charities depend heavily on public fundraising: the relentless grind of letters, appeals, tin shaking, donor cultivation and sponsored events. Charity staff do not have national pay scales or pensions, nor are they generally appreciated by the general public. Yet staff at this conference, with a wide range of ages and backgrounds, were filled with passion for their work and for developing a quality framework for their services.
It made me wonder what we have done to community nurses that, even in the most innovative, caring organisation that puts on a conference for staff, they feel so muted. The same sense comes from other encounters: there is a sense of exhaustion and resignation; the struggle of the job seems to outweigh the benefits.
What is reassuring is the enthusiasm and commitment of many of the other nurses we meet, including project leaders and Queen's Nurses. We need to redouble our efforts to re-energise and support people struggling through change to services, or downsizing of teams. Community nursing has always been challenging, and health services have been through many changes, cuts and crises. We will work through this and enjoy the challenge of providing quality care again.
Rosemary Cook, director, Queen's Nursing Institute