Most people, at some point in their lives, have needed a nurse.
They are there at births and deaths, and at difficult times in between. They care for us when we are sick and help us get back on our feet again.
They’re the world’s largest group of health professionals, an absolutely essential part of every health service around the world – and we celebrate them each year, on 12th May, International Nurses Day.
Of course nurses face many different challenges.
Some are forced to work in the most difficult and trying circumstances imaginable, putting themselves in great personal danger in order to save the lives of others. In Syria, an airstrike hit Aleppo’s al-Quds hospital, killing staff and patients alike. Over 700 medical professionals have died in Syria since the start of the conflict, including many nurses. Wherever there is conflict there will be nurses saving lives and providing care and comfort for those in incredible pain.
Indeed, the reason why International Nurses Day is celebrated today is because Florence Nightingale – perhaps history’s most famous wartime nurse – was born on this day.
Yet it’s not just warzones where nurses put their lives on the line. Others put themselves at risk in other ways, like those who travelled from around the world to fightWest Africa’s recent Ebola outbreak, looking after those in the direst need as they were ravaged by a cruel and highly contagious virus. Some of those nurses succumbed to the virus themselves – making the ultimate sacrifice in the pursuit of saving the lives of others.
That urge to save lives drives nurses worldwide, yet their care is not just about treatment, it’s also about prevention. Immunisation nurses save countless lives around the world and help eliminate contagious, treatable disease, helping the world drive down mortality rates.
Closer to home, in the UK nurses face difficulties of their own in an overstretched and under-funded National Health Service. Faced with an ageing population, the strain on Britain’s health service and its’ nurses is only going to become more acute for these hard-working staff who work around the clock for relatively low wages.
As Britain’s largest health union, UNISON has always been quick to point out the importance of nursing as a profession, their role as part of the whole team of health workers and as a highly visible face of the NHS.
Yet the government has failed to stand up for nurses and nursing, exacerbating an already serious nursing shortage by axing the NHS bursary that allows student nurses to train. The government should be busting a gut to recruit more student nurses. And yet the government’s desperate attempt to make its numbers add up means that the future of the nursing profession, nurses livelihoods and the NHS have been placed in jeopardy.
Senseless cuts like this show that even in wealthy nations nursing as a profession is at risk, and must be fought for and defended.
Today is the day we set aside to remember the work that nurses do. The times they have cared for us, when they have gone above and beyond the call of duty, when they have saved lives and cared for those in need. But the nursing profession needs our thoughts and our support not just today, but each and every day. To protect their jobs and pay, and to ensure they can provide the best standard of care by working in a clean, safe and healthy environment.
After all, when they have given us so much, giving them our wholehearted support is the very least we can do in return.
This piece was originally published by Newsweek.