We can’t combat global injustices in isolation - Leanne Patrick
When Jessica Anderson broke the world record for running the fastest marathon dressed in a nurses uniform, her record was initially refused by Guinness World Records because her uniform didn’t meet their criteria. Since she hadn’t raced in a dress, apron and cap - Ms. Anderson did not meet GWR’s criteria.
When #NurseTwitter learned of this, the response was an outpouring of support on a global scale. Nurses took to Twitter in their thousands to share pictures of themselves in their uniforms using the hashtag #WhatNursesWear. Student Nurses and Registered Nurses around the world came together to challenge outdated and sexist views of the nursing profession, supported by three UK Chief Nursing Officers who shared photos of themselves in uniform in solidarity. The campaign gained global attention and resulted in a change. GWR not only awarded Ms. Anderson her rightful record, they committed to reviewing 200+ other marathon titles.
This unprecedented outpouring is particularly significant at a time when nurses are underrepresented in politics and wards remain understaffed. A lack of influence over policy is not, however, due to lack of interest. Where governments have failed to listen to nurses, they have found alternative avenues for influence.
However, in an unstable and rapidly changing political landscape, it is increasingly important that nurses are included in political decision making and policy influence; something we look to our unions to be active in and support members to achieve. In 2013, following a member vote, the Royal College of Nursing left the International Council of Nurses - of which they had been a founding member. Since then, there have been a number of unprecedented global political events, such as Brexit, and British nurses have lacked international political presence. A cursory glance at social media shows us that British nurses are not, however, lacking in political appetite for this particular issue.
Many nurses have taken to Twitter to discuss the impact of this upon staff retention, medication shortages and more. Their views are clear - Brexit is already putting our patients at risk. This kind of insight is precisely why nurses are ideally placed to be policy influencers. It is clear, in light of Brexit and a world that is increasingly fracturing into prioritisation of locally focussed politics, that nurses need to step up to the plate to articulate the impact of this upon the health needs of the British population. Political nurses are also needed to remind people that we only have power in international and global decision making if we are part of a global community; we can’t combat global injustices in isolation.
If the RCN were to re-join the ICN, members would once again become part of a global community of nurses and regain our international presence and influence. Campaigns like #NursingNow have not only reminded us why this matters but that British nurses, along with our colleagues around the world, are ready to embrace their role in global politics. A recent call for applicants to attend the World Health Assembly and learn more about global health policy resulted in an overwhelming response. Nurses are keen to learn and be involved, we simply need the right opportunities and support to do so.
What we need now is to strongly consider re-joining the ICN and prioritise, as part of this, that the RCN takes steps to ensure the value of this connection is realised long term - we must ensure investment in developing members’ confidence and skills in global political engagement. We cannot again find ourselves in a position where the world around us is changing and we are left without the ability to collaborate with our international colleagues in a unified global response.
Leanne Patrick is a Student Nurse