‘Nurses should remember the unique role they play in the NHS and across wider care settings’

This article was taken from: https://www.nursingtimes.net/opinion/nurses-should-remember-the-unique-role-they-play-in-the-nhs-and-across-wider-care-settings-23-12-2019/

By Katie Whitehead, practice nurse 

I don’t know what most of the general public think a practice nurse does. I don’t even know what I thought a practice nurse did before I became one.

Probably something along the lines of looking after wounds and giving vaccinations.

In fact, as practice nurses, we are responsible for the following, along with numerous other ad hoc and miscellaneous tasks, which come our way because everyone else asked so far has shrugged and said “maybe ask the nurse?”.

We are involved in: helping to prevent and identify cancer, as well as giving treatments for cancer; helping to prevent heart attacks and strokes, as well as helping people to recover from these and prevent repeat events.

We support people who live with life-threatening and terminal respiratory conditions, to optimise their quality of life, avoid acute attacks and minimise their day-to-day symptoms.

We support and advise people with endocrine conditions, such as diabetes on how to avoid life-threatening complications and permanent disabilities.

We advise on and administering treatments to avoid unwanted pregnancies and maintain sexual health; supporting people to maintain and improve their mental health; ensuring those with learning disabilities and with mental health conditions get equality of care for their physical and mental health needs.

We are involved in the continuing the care of patients who have had surgical interventions until they are healed, identifying and resolving any complications with their wounds; treating and supporting patients with long-term wounds.

We are advising and protecting worldwide travellers against the threats to their health; monitoring and supporting people with debilitating gastrointestinal conditions; monitoring people on potentially dangerous drugs for safety and efficacy; and, yes, administering hundreds of vaccinations to babies, children and adults to protect them against numerous, potentially life-threatening, diseases.

And we listen. And listen. And listen. For many people, this is all they need and can be as therapeutic as any pill.

Practice nurses are a reliable shoulder to cry on, ear to listen, sounding board for worries and ideas, and non-judgmental receiver of complaints and frustrations about a system that doesn’t always work for them.

Many patients don’t have anyone with whom they feel able to discuss personal and troubling issues. We can be a safe space for that discussion. This list is, of course, not complete, as those with extended roles and qualifications, such as prescribing and advanced practice, can perform additional or different work.

“We often have the pleasure of working with several generations of the same family and caring for them, literally, from the cradle to the grave”

All my practice nurse colleagues and I have the privilege of working, sometimes over many years, with people who require support, treatment, advice and encouragement, and we build up strong and lasting relationships with them.

We often have the pleasure of working with several generations of the same family and caring for them, literally, from the cradle to the grave.

Dr Ayan Panja, a GP with a special interest in lifestyle medicine, describes general practice as “saving lives in slow motion”. Supporting people with long-term conditions isn’t generally as dramatic as acute care, but the end results can be just as life-changing as the interventions performed in hospitals.

And the work can often take more determination and commitment as it’s frequently about building long-term therapeutic relationships with patients, and developing trust and mutual respect with them and their families.

I feel privileged to do the job I do, not only because it provides such deep satisfaction when outcomes are good, but also because our patients trust us with such intimate access to their lives, and the opportunity to support them, when things don’t go so well.

In today’s’ healthcare environment it is important for nurses to remember the unique role they play in the NHS and across wider care settings and their essential contribution to the service we provide for our patients.

The role of the practice nurse perfectly embodies the International Nurses Day concept for 2020 – Nurses a voice to lead, nursing the world to health.

As this role further evolves and develops, it will continue to play a vital part in the provision of primary healthcare for all members of the general public when they need it.