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I hope we can see beyond the restrictions of the past and reach for the moon - Laura Serrant

July 2019 marks a momentous occasion. This week the newsreels, online discussions and media attention is drawn to the Apollo 11 mission – The historical moment when human beings landed, and walked on the moon. A significant occasion in world history.


My own attentions today, Wednesday 17th July 2019, is drawn to another – maybe not as world rocking, but equally important event taking place. Today the Royal College of Nursing’s Council will open a discussion to revisit the UK membership of The International Council of Nurses (ICN). In 2013, at the RCN Congress, the attending delegates took the momentous decision to withdraw the UK from ICN membership. The reasons, rationale and catalysts for this decision to leave will never truly be known. Like many decisions which change the direction of a profession, country or social group it is the result of a myriad of personal appraisals of a complex situation and as such the true ‘reason’ is not only difficult to pin down, but is itself modified and changed with the telling of the story and the passage of time.


You may wonder how these two events are linked? What unites moon landings with nursing?


In both cases they epitomise the realisation that there are few challenges that we face in the world which are confined to one country, one nation or one continent.  The human endeavour and world event that was the first moon landing, was the culmination of cooperation between the greatest minds from a variety of countries; working together to achieve a single aim – One they believed would benefit all humanity and change our understanding of the life as we knew it. Global health is thus similarly aligned as global science. Our greatest  health concerns of the 21st century – whether obesity, non-communicable diseases, maternal and child health or antimicrobial resistance are universally shared. It therefore follows that the solution to the challenges themselves are also universal…reliant on our acknowledgment that the greatest minds and a diversity of perspectives are needed to address them.


The global imperative for health professionals, particularly nurses has never been greater. The shortage of nurses is felt on every continent – in the UK the estimated 40,000 shortfall in our profession impacts on the well being of nurses and the public alike. Nursing (almost above all professions) was identified as key to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals set out by the United Nations. Dr Tedros, the Director General of the World Health Organisation, has, since his inauguration identified the prioritisation of nurses and nursing practice as an essential component for achieving universal health care and health for all across the globe. Working closely with the ICN, Dr Tedros continues to reinforce this and so recognition that global health is inextricably tied up with the the nursing profession has gained momentum. The UK, with its world wide reputation for high quality nursing needs to remain an important player in this endeavour.


It is true that the UK contribution to global health and growth of the profession worldwide is not singularly dependant on ICN membership. However, our absence from membership of the recognised primary global council of nursing professional bodies is conspicuous. Without official representation, we are to some extend rendered less able to not only shape the global nursing agenda, but to truly engage as an equal partner. This leaves our contributions confined to invited advisory roles, individual endeavours or relatively small project contributions.  At the same time, this position does not protect us from attempting to manage and work with the local impacts of global health concerns.


I am not sure what the outcome will be of the deliberations today. However, like the ‘crazy’ scientists that imagined and conspired to put a man on the moon….I am hopeful. Hopeful that the global imperative for nursing will remain central in the minds of the RCN Council as they attempt to review the concerns, challenges and possibilities of reviewing UK membership of the ICN.


I hope we too can see beyond ourselves and restrictions of the past…Reaching for the moon, and at least grasping some ‘stars’ on the way.


Laura Serrant is a Professor of Nursing

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