The future is here and nursing is ready

Ruth May, our Executive Director of Nursing, reflects on her time as a nurse, the challenges and what's to come this year in the run up to International Nurses Day.

I’m proud to say I joined the nursing profession on the 5 July 1985 and throughout a career varied in its geography, its scope and its focus, I’ve never lost touch with the purpose that brought me into the NHS. My aunt was a nurse and my mother started her nurse training, but wasn’t able to complete her studies due to my arrival into the world! So I’m honoured to have continued that journey on her behalf.

Ruth May, Executive Director of Nursing, NHS Improvement

Ruth May, Executive Director of Nursing, NHS Improvement

I’m looking forward to a spring and summer full of commemoration and celebration of the very best our NHS nursing, midwifery and allied health professions (AHP) communities have to offer. And I hope to share some personal reflections along the way of where I think our profession has come from and is headed. 

It’s a busy time indeed. Saturday 5 May was International Day of the Midwife and we look forward to International Nurses Day on 12 May. In June, the Florence Nightingale annual conference recognises the contribution of nurses nationwide and of course, in early July, we all come together to celebrate NHS 70 in a series of commemorative events.

So at such an important time for the nursing, midwifery and AHP workforce, how are we responding to some of the challenges we are currently facing? And are we staying true to our shared purpose of keeping the patient at the heart of everything we do?


It makes me proud to think that our clinical workforce is leading the way on critical NHS issues such as retention, staff health and wellbeing, maternity safety, and the development of healthcare leaders for the future. These are difficult challenges to overcome.

Finding an answer to the nursing workforce supply is multi-faceted and complex — there is no single solution. However, a series of considered interventions, including through our retention improvement collaborative work, is starting to pay off for some trusts and we hope more are able to follow their lead in forthcoming cohorts.

We are at the start of our journey on another critical challenge impacting the wider NHS workforce — that of supporting all trusts in prioritising staff health and wellbeing, including understanding their needs around important topics such as violence and harassment against staff. 

Ensuring all NHS staff can come to work in safe and supported environment that not only keeps them free from harm, but actively encourages them to thrive, is a fundamental part of how we support them.

Nursing leadership is also something I feel passionately about. Many of the grassroots social movements that are supporting patient independence and wellbeing like #EndPJParalysis are being driven by the wider nursing, AHP and caring professions — working closely with their medical colleagues. 

In leading the national Stop The Pressure campaign against avoidable pressure ulcers, I saw and continue to see brilliant examples of nursing leaders having a real impact on the quality of people’s lives. That is clinical leadership in action and I’m so pleased to see the appetite of nursing, midwifery and AHP colleagues around the country for leadership opportunities, at ward level and beyond. And we will continue to roll out development programmes that meet our providers’ needs.

In the near future, we will extend that focus to volunteering efforts nationally as well, enabling colleagues that want to give something back.

As I reflect on such a pivotal time, both for the NHS and for my profession, I’m most proud of the way we, as nurses, midwives and carers have embraced our current challenges and future opportunities.

By looking ahead, we have been able to continue innovating our practice, bringing cutting-edge techniques, and scientific and academic rigour to the table, as well as our unstinting care and compassion. But we have never lost our focus on meeting the challenges of the here and now — the patient that needs our care and attention, the ward that requires strong leadership and the members of our team that may need our emotional support just as much as our patients do.

Whenever anyone asks a nurse what they do, I want them to reply:

I’m a nurse and we are always so much more than the title we have on our name badge. Many of us are scientists, researchers, academics, innovators and even surgeons.

Let’s take a proud moment in the coming weeks and months, ahead of such a landmark birthday for our NHS, to remember that.

Written by Ruth May, Executive Director of Nursing, NHS Improvement

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