Jill Foster has been sharing her thoughts and thanks ahead of Nurses’ Day with the local media this week.IMG-20230511-WA0009.jpg Here is what she had to say…

International Nurses’ Day is an annual opportunity to thank, recognise and celebrate all of our nursing colleagues. The date was chosen to coincide with the anniversary of the birth of Florence Nightingale on 12th May, 1820.

I think Nurses’ Day is particularly poignant this year as we approach the NHS’s 75th birthday in July. Nurses have always played a vital role in the NHS since the day it began, but what a journey the role of the nurse has been on in those 75 years!

I qualified as a nurse in 1987 and specialised in the acute medical field, including intensive care, coronary care, high dependency and emergency admissions. When people ask me if I always want to be a nurse I have to answer honestly and say ‘no’ – I really wanted to be the blonde one in Abba, but that job was taken so I had to make a more pragmatic choice!

When you are a student nurse you don’t think it is possible to become a ward manager; I didn’t until I became one. I then started to realise that I wanted to be able to influence and contribute to nursing on a wider footing so I completed a degree and then a master’s degree before progressing to associate director and chief nursing roles.

I have been the Chief Nurse at NCIC for two years now and I am very proud of a number of things including the wonderful advancements in specialist nursing roles here. We have also made significant investment into creating more nursing roles. Last year we invested an extra £3.8m into our nursing workforce at our two acute hospitals which allowed us to create an additional 31 new nursing roles and 163 new health care assistant roles. Although there is always work to do, I am very proud to say that nursing vacancies are now the lowest they have even been thanks to the investment we have made.

Our recruitment successes have been at a local, national and international level. Internationally educated nurses have always been an integral part of the NHS’s workforce. Here in north Cumbria, we have been welcoming more international nurses over the past few years which has been really successful with the number working for us by the end of this year set to be over 360. We want to have a culturally diverse workforce and I would like to take this opportunity to thank our nurses from overseas for making north Cumbria their home as well as the local communities here for welcoming our new colleagues.

The theme of this year’s Nurses’ Day is ‘our nurses, our future’ which I think is very apt. It is fantastic to reminisce and look back over the years but it is equally, or arguably more, important to look to the future.

The opportunities in nursing now are truly limitless and the routes into nursing are numerous. At NCIC we talk about being ‘clinically-led’ and in the past that may have conjured up images of doctors for most people. I think everyone now recognises that nurses are very much part of clinical leadership teams. If someone had told me in 1987 that a nurse would be doing lumber punctures and other surgical procedures unsupervised, I wouldn’t have believed them, so look how far we have come. In north Cumbria we now have numerous specialist nurses undertaking roles which used to be done by a doctor.  

My priorities for the year ahead are:

  • to make sure we have the right size workforce in all of our services to continue to provide safe, high quality care;
  • to expand our nurse consultant workforce as much as possible and
  • to continue to provide exciting career opportunities to try to encourage local people to stay in Cumbria as well as bringing in the best and brightest from outside the area

Of course it is also important to recognise and talk about the current challenges. The past three years have challenged the profession as never before and the impact of that can still be felt today. We know the NHS is under pressure across the country with demand rising and challenges with recruiting enough staff but, despite this, nursing staff put their patients first and continue to make a real difference.

Seeing and reading about the NHS’s challenges may lead to some people questioning if it is the right career for them but I hope I can persuade people otherwise! It is a physically demanding and emotionally challenging role, but it has rewards that you wouldn’t get anywhere else. It is a privilege to be part of people’s lives when they might be facing their most difficult time and you are uniquely qualified to make those difficulties easier for them.

If I have persuaded anybody to pursue a career in nursing then the good news is there are more opportunities for nurses in Cumbria than ever before. This is allowing us to keep more local talent in the area, give our staff the recognition they deserve and help them reach their potential.

Some people may not be able to pursue nursing through the traditional university route for a variety of reasons so I am delighted that we are now offering more nursing apprenticeships. To date, we have supported 52 of our healthcare assistants through their nursing degree with 23 more expected to complete this year. We also have a ‘step into work’ programme for people who want to work in the NHS but don’t have the right qualifications. It is an eight week pre-employment programme and I am pleased to say that so far 100 per cent of candidates from previous programmes have been successful in being offered a role at the Trust.

Finally, a message to nurses working across north Cumbria: It has been another year of hard work on the back of the most difficult time in nursing I have ever known during the pandemic. Saying ‘thank you’ is too little, but it is the only thing I can say. I look forward to working with you all over the coming year and welcoming more new nurses to north Cumbria.