10 May 2017

S5M-05165 International Nurses Day

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Christine Grahame): The next item of business is a members’ business debate on motion S5M-05165, in the name of Emma Harper, on celebrating international nurses day on 12 May 2017. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament recognises International Nurses Day 2017, which is celebrated around the world every year on 12 May; acknowledges that this date is the anniversary of Florence Nightingale’s birth; considers that Mary Seacole also contributed immensely to furthering the caring for ill and recuperating patients; understands that nurses are the single largest group of healthcare professionals in the UK; acknowledges that nursing encompasses the autonomous and collaborative care of individuals of all ages, families and communities in all settings, and includes the promotion of health, prevention of illness and care of people who are ill, disabled and who are dying; considers that advocacy, promotion of a safe environment, research, participation in shaping health policy and education are also key roles in nursing, and notes calls for everyone to mark International Nurses Day in some way, whether it be by sharing messages of support on social media, learning more about the hard work nurses do, or fundraising for a charity that supports nursing staff.

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Stewart Stevenson (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP):

I thank Emma Harper for providing the opportunity to discuss this important subject.

The thing that I most noticed in Emma Harper’s motion was the name Mary Seacole, of whom I had not heard anything whatsoever in my life. I therefore very much welcomed the opportunity to investigate who she was and what she did with her life.

Like everyone else, I have a few nurses in my family. My father-in-law was a psychiatric nurse, as was my sister-in-law—both trained in Inverness in the 1950s. My Aunt Stewart—another Stewart Stevenson—and her sister Daisy registered as nurses in Bradford in 1925, my niece Susan is now a transplant co-ordinator in Queensland, Australia, and there is also my sister Mairi, of course.

Perhaps most critically from my point of view, I spent five months working as a nurse in Stratheden psychiatric hospital in 1964. Members may think that things are a bit difficult now, but we did a 108-hour fortnight—12 days on and two days off—for £6.50 a week. The staffing ratios were horrendous. One weekend when we were working double shifts, two of us looked after 32 physically ill psychiatric patients. That would just never happen now. Progress is therefore being made.

One important thing about nurses today that we should think about and support them for is that they are highly trained and have skills and knowledge that I, when I was a nurse in 1964, and all my antecedents, ancestors and relatives definitely did not have. Nurses are now trained to a level that is higher and more effective than my father was trained to as a general practitioner—he qualified in 1945 at the comparatively elderly age of 44.

My individual experience of nurses has been universally good. I have a campaign scar from being bitten by a dog during the Falkirk West by-election in 2000. It was a nurse who put the six stitches in my hand that allowed me to return to canvassing for our candidate—unsuccessfully; the nurse was therefore not that successful in repairing me. I spent five weeks in Bangour hospital some 30 years ago for a condition that I will not share with members, but which was one that none of them will wish to experience. I was not critically ill but was certainly in need of nursing. Therefore, in my personal life, I am grateful to nurses.

In modern times, of course, like many of my age group, I have a particular relationship with the Macmillan nurses, because one gets to an age when more of one’s friends and relatives are reaching the end of their lives. In particular, the work that the Macmillan nurses do in supporting people to end their lives with dignity and in comfort in their own homes is absolutely magnificent.

The motto “Nurses: A Voice to Lead” sounds to me absolutely spot-on. Nurses are important in primary care in a way that they did not used to be. I would rather see the practice nurse for most of the things that I would wish to go to my GP for. Fortunately, I do not even know the name of my GP—that is how infrequent a visitor I am, and I hope to remain in that position.

Some nurses are brave beyond the point of foolhardiness. My best man’s mother was a nurse, and she met her husband during the last world war in a hospital where he had been taken because he had been badly burned when his tank was blown up. Such was the personal charisma of that nurse that my best man’s father proposed to her and married her three weeks after meeting her. However, the real trick was that he was badly burned and bandaged from the neck upwards, and when she got married to him, she had not even seen his face. That is nursing bravery of the highest order, but I can tell members that it worked extremely well.

For me to end on a humorous note does not in any way diminish the very serious and valuable work that nurses throughout our health service do on behalf of us all. Let us hope that we never have to meet them, although we know that they are there when we need them.


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