Good afternoon and thank you Minister
Today is International Nurses Day – a significant event for nurses in the Isle of Man and around the world.
It is held each year on May the 12th to mark the anniversary of Florence Nightingale’s birth - and this year is special, on her 200th anniversary.
The founder of modern nursing, Florence Nightingale has been the inspiration for generations of nurses over two centuries, and she remains so today.
I want to dwell for a few moments on her legacy, because it has a fascinating relevance for the profession today, as we deal with a global health emergency.
Commitment, compassion and care for patients were the essence of nursing when Florence tended to wounded soldiers in the Crimea in the mid-1850s.
Those qualities haven’t changed, and are displayed daily by nurses in our own health and care system.
But Florence was much more than the ‘Lady with the Lamp’, as she is so often portrayed.
She was a serious academic who used her intellect and fierce sense of justice to bring about far-reaching reforms to the health system in the UK, saving countless civilian lives.
In education, Florence Nightingale excelled in all subjects, but above all mathematics. Her passion was statistics – and she is acknowledged as one of history’s most important statisticians.
A woman imbued with humanity and a sense of duty - but driven by data.
She used the data she collected to find the causes of problems and to campaign for resources to solve them.
Her data showed that soldiers in the Crimea were dying of preventable diseases caused by an infected water supply rather than their battle wounds.
She pulled no punches in presenting her findings to politicians.
A data-led approach drove her ideas for social reforms and the development of modern nursing.
Improved living standards, better sanitation, the restructuring of army medical services and the redesign of hospital buildings are all part of Florence Nightingale’s legacy.
This didn’t happen by accident. It was the result of data collection and analysis; she produced graphs, curves and charts to make her case and call for change.
In the 21st century, nurses are on the front line of our fight against Covid-19, and are rightly praised and thanked for their dedication and compassion.
But our response to the virus - in areas from social distancing to testing regimes and the use of PPE - are driven by science and hard data.
Caring impulses and clear, hard data are two sides of the same coin. They are a winning formula.
Our modelling of different infection spread scenarios, reorganisation of the hospital and health and Social Care services, staffing, supply lines and logistics plans are all driven by data, evidence and best practice.
So on International Nurses Day let’s remember Florence Nightingale for her compassion and for her rigorous and unsentimental approach.
Let’s recognise the profound influence this approach has had on our health service today, an approach which is serving us very well indeed in our current challenge.
Like Florence Nightingale, our nurses are highly skilled, multi-faceted professionals and the first global Year of the Nurse and Midwife was designated by the World Health Organisation to recognise that.
Its aim was to celebrate the advancement of the professions, and reflect on the skills, commitment and clinical care nurses bring, to positively impact the lives of citizens around the world.
It was hoped the Year would raise the profile of nursing and midwifery, increasing levels of independence in many spheres of nursing, and highlight the diversity of roles available, especially to young people considering future career options.
This we hoped would encourage recruitment and retention across all areas of nursing and midwifery.
Nurses and midwives make up the largest number of health and social care workers; it was to be their year in the spotlight, a chance to showcase talents and expertise, a morale boost.
Well, we have done all of this – and more!
Not in the way we intended of course. A calendar of events carefully put together by a group of dedicated nurses and midwives who believe passionately in the cause, has been all but abandoned.
Our plans included conferences, workshops, school and college visits, a family fun day, a TT themed competition, an awards ceremony and a nurses’ lamplight walk.
Most but not all of these events have had to be postponed, some we hope can still happen later in the year. But we do not look back.
There could be no great sense of disappointment among nurses and midwives. We are focused in our roles responding to the coronavirus pandemic, which is likely to be the greatest challenge of most nurses’ careers.
It is an experience we are learning from now and will draw on for many years to come.
There are positives and we should recognise them, while mourning the tragic loss of life from Covid-19.
A huge, unexpected and frightening challenge arose – and we stepped up to meet it. Obstacles have been overcome with determination and focus.
We have discovered deep reserves of patience, courage, resourcefulness and team working – which we will not let go of.
We have learnt to work in different ways to meet pressing needs – the adaptability and flexibility of colleagues has been simply outstanding.
Finding out we can do things we never thought possible is an affirming lesson in life and is one of the clearest ‘wins’ in a period which threatened to bring overwhelming loss.
The restrictions have challenged us all at home and at work, but there is a lasting satisfaction in getting on with the job and weathering the storm.
That challenge makes us stronger - as individuals, as a profession and as a community.
The experience has sometimes been draining – but it has been uplifting too.
There have been moments of anguish, stress and frustration – but also feelings of relief, accomplishment, even joy.
The clapping for healthcare and key workers by the public on Thursday evenings is a welcome act of recognition.
It feels personal to many of us, makes us proud of each other and perhaps more than anything else, binds us together with an invisible glue.
Cohesion across the professions was a key aim of this special year – and is one of many achievements.
But while taking heart from the clapping, nurses and midwives don’t want to be seen as either angels or heroes.
They are professionals, doing the job they were trained to do, albeit in unprecedented circumstances, at pace and under pressure.
Some have made great sacrifices, living in hospital accommodation away from their own families, to protect loved ones and their patients.
The desire to help our fellow human beings, to make a real difference to other people, is what attracted us to the profession. Whilst such motivations can fluctuate over time, this desire to help others has been brought back into sharp focus.
Our roles and the incalculable value of our health service are crystal clear to all.
We will continue doing whatever is required to beat the virus and help keep our community safe.
Because that is what we do.
I am grateful for the opportunity to thank and salute all nurses and midwives across the spectrum of the professions.
We may not have celebrated as planned but we have paused to reflect on our roles and our contribution to meeting a global health emergency.
We have showcased what we do in unique and unforgettable circumstances.
It is turning out to be a year none of us will ever forget.