Social care nursing makes economic sense.

The following extended blog is based on an address given to staff at Erskine Veterans on Friday 10th May, in celebration of International Nurses Day which is held every year on the 12th May, the birthday of that original nursing pioneer Florence Nightingale born some 204 years ago.

The theme for this year’s International Nurses Day 2024 is ‘The economic power of care’ which might seem at best a bit of a tangential topic but when you reflect on it, I think, makes complete sense.

I want to share some reflections this morning on this theme and to do so in three strands:

  • What did money mean to Florence?
  • The economics of nursing care, and why I believe,
  • Social care nursing has a particular and unique contribution to make to economic and wider societal wellbeing.

I think it is fair to say that Florence came from a relatively well-off family. She was the second daughter of a prominent family, and her father William was a successful banker. The family owned properties in Hampshire and also an estate in Derbyshire. Like many wealthy individuals of the age, they had a large number of servants and staff. What was more unusual was that William insisted that his daughters had an education, and they were schooled in science, history and mathematics.

Florence was a religious child even by the standards of the age and from an early age she had decided she wanted to in her own words ‘alleviate suffering’ and to do so she decided to become a nurse. At the time nursing had a very low social status and the idea of someone from a wealthy background who simply did not need to work, becoming a nurse seemed unthinkable. It certainly was to her father William who resisted the protestations of his daughter. But like many fathers might recognise he eventually gave in and in 1851 he agreed that she should attend a school for women in Germany where she learnt core patient skills.

Two years later Florence was improving the treatment of patients at a women’s hospital in London. Then the war that changed nursing started. The Crimea War broke out in 1854 and British troops went off to fight in the Crimea – an area in the south of Russia, now part of Ukraine. When news reached the Minister for War, Sidney Herbert that hundreds of men were dying from their battle wounds and diseases he asked Nightingale to lead a team of nurses and go to the Crimea.

Her frontline heroism, her emphasis on hygiene and cleanliness, her transformation of hospital conditions became legendary and modern nursing really started.

After the Crimean War Nightingale was awarded a huge sum of money – over £250,000 from the British Government and in 1860 she used the money to establish the Nightingale Training School for Nurses at St. Thomas Hospital in London. Indeed, during the War in 1857 a fund was set up to support Florence’s work and it raised £44,000 equivalent to £2 million pounds today.

If you read her many letters and the histories and biographies produced over the years you can’t help but be struck by the fact that here is a woman who had economic and financial savviness, and knew the cost of things to the penny but she was always confident that she could raise the money needed in order to focus on what was paramount in nursing – the patient. Indeed, she is quoted as saying that ‘I attribute my success to this – I never gave or took any excuse.”

Money was a means to an end; its absence or lack could not or should not be used as an excuse for poor patient treatment or poor nursing skill and education. And ever since the Florence Nightingale Foundation has invested millions of pounds over the years to improve and advance the quality of care and nursing across the globe. And still does so today.

So, I think Florence teaches us our first lesson on economics and nursing – namely don’t let economic excuse or fiscal challenge become the reason for inaction.

In our modern era then what do we mean by the economics of care?

When the International Day of the Nurse theme was decided it was declared with the statement that ‘nursing creates healthy people and societies and drives healthy economies.’ In other words, there was an assertion that to have a healthy economy you need to recognise the contribution of nursing to societal and national wellbeing and health.

But when the ICN President, Dr Pamela Cipriano explained the reasoning behind the chosen theme, she also issued a warning:

“Despite being the backbone of health care, nursing often faces financial constraints and societal undervaluation … ICN has chosen to focus IND 2024 on the economic power of care with the aim to reshape perceptions and demonstrate how strategic investment in nursing can bring considerable economic and societal benefits.

We believe now is the time for a shift in perspective. We have seen time and again how financial crises often lead to budgetary restrictions in health care, typically at the expense of nursing services. This reductionist approach overlooks the substantial and often underemphasized economic value that nursing contributes to health care and society as a whole.”

Couldn’t be any clearer – if you want a healthy society then invest in nursing and what it brings to the health and wellbeing of that society. When times are tough and economies are struggling it is NOT the time to disinvest or draw back – quite the opposite – it is the time to prioritise in a profession which enables people to remain healthy (especially in austerity); it is a time to ensure that nursing continues to support people who want to and are able to remain part of their communities and who can then contribute themselves to the economic and social wellbeing of their place.

We very rarely view nursing as an economic contributor – we tend to be uncomfortable with that sort of language – but I think we need to get real and recognise that without the daily contribution of nurses up and down our country, then the functioning of our society and economy would simply over time grind to a halt.

It is especially the case in a country like Scotland that nurses enable communities to thrive and people to flourish, and where they contribute to our wider societal wellbeing and health. It is because of nurses that communities live better, and we are all able to become healthier. Without nursing the horrendous health inequalities of our country would become even worse and deeper.

My third strand for the economic contribution of nurses – is what I consider to be the distinctive, unique and particular role of nurses who work in social care settings and contexts.

There is a very active debate about what it is that is special or unique about social care nursing. I am not the only one in this room I suspect who has been reading a lot of threads on Twitter or X and Facebook discussing what a difference social care nursing makes.

There seems to be nothing new in this… more of that in a minute… But here are three descriptions: (so you know what it is that you should be doing.)

‘Nurses in social care have distinct expertise. They use their clinical skills to understand the variety of needs of patients, and also deliver relationship-centred support. They recognise the importance of giving each individual a sense of security, purpose, achievement and significance.’  NHS England

The distinct expertise of this group of registered nurses is in enabling individuals with care and support needs, many of whom have multiple co-morbidities and complex health issues, to live positively in their own homes. They embody the capabilities and cultures of both health and social care professions and employ their nursing knowledge and skills within a social model of care. Their focus is not only on an individual’s health condition and resulting impairment but also on the impact this has on their participation in social and community life.  Skills for Care

​A healthcare need is related to the treatment, control or prevention of a disease, illness, injury or disability. And the care or aftercare of a person with these needs. A social care need is focused on providing assistance with the activities of daily living.’  MIND

My former colleague Dr Jane Douglas researched and wrote a brilliant report which was published two years ago. It stated that:

“While participants to the study struggled to define the role of nursing, they were able to clearly articulate the knowledge and skills required to undertake the nursing role in care homes, along with the value of having Registered Nurses. They easily reflected on how they use their own knowledge and skills to ensure residents in their care remain as well as they can.’

It went on to say:

‘The Social Care Nurse focus is to ensure better outcomes for people experiencing care and their relatives, to ensure a quality of life and a quality of death. To support the person to be as well as they can with the understanding that wellness fluctuates daily. This is achieved through a holistic person-centred approach.’

That definition and the findings of her report in part grew out from and drew upon a Twitter debate about the distinctive role of social care nursing. And lo here we are again two years on and we are still debating what is distinctive and special, unique and particular.

But the very fact that there is need of a conversation in the first place tells its own story about the under-valuing, the stigma and the marginalisation of social care nurses. I find it astonishing that there is such a high level of ignorance amongst nurses who have never worked in the social care sector about what it is that their colleagues and fellows do. I find it shameful that there are so many instances of casual dismissiveness that suggest that social care nurses are folks who are wanting an easy life away from the hard work and grind of the acute hospital ward; I find it demeaning that there is so little understanding of the ultra-professionalism, astonishing levels of skill and autonomy that exists in the care home sector.

Can you imagine that surgeons in different disciplines would so easily dismiss a colleague or worse than that would not even consider that it was worthwhile that they should know the scope, expertise, clinical ability or patient insights of a colleague.

Maybe we have got it the wrong way around – rather than social care nursing having to defend its position, propose a theory of its uniqueness and posit its distinctiveness – maybe our colleagues in the NHS can tell us what is so special about the jobs that they do that all others in social care should be so casually excluded from value and appreciation, from recognition and notice?

In the theme of the day perhaps more than any other form of nursing it is social care nursing that helps turn the wheels of our economy. It enables people to be supported and nurtured so that they can continue to contribute. It nurtures relationship, fosters community, attends to not just the clinical needs but the holistic requirements of a person in community.

Social care nursing has to re-discover the spark of passionate identity which Florence Nightingale fostered – for if nothing else it strikes me when you read the works of Nightingale that it is social care nursing that seems closest to her original person-led, relationship based, autonomous understanding of nursing from life through to death. In social care nursing we get Florence’s sense that nursing was not an added extra or luxury, but an essential ingredient which bound our common humanity together especially to those who were wounded or ill, broken or fragile.

Florence once said:

“The world is put back by the death of everyone who has to sacrifice the development of his or her peculiar gifts to conventionality.”

It is time for social care nursing to stop being put back by dying to be defined … we should not be continually having to defend a definition but rather need to proclaim the irreplaceable benefits, the peculiar gifts, that the women and men in this room and outside across Scotland’s care homes and social care organisations are bringing every single minute of every single day.

Happy International Nurses Day when it comes.

Donald Macaskill

Last Updated on 13th May 2024 by donald.macaskill