Blog: Andrea continues her #ListeningMode journey in Northern Ireland

In her regular blog, our Chief Executive, Andrea Sutcliffe, reflects on her visit to Northern Ireland and the nursing associate celebration event in Westminster

Northern Ireland

Last week started with the next phase of my #ListeningMode journey around the UK with a visit to Northern Ireland with Council member Maura Devlin and NMC colleagues Emma Broadbent and Ann Brown.

The health and social care landscape in Northern Ireland is different with greater structural integration in place than the other countries. It benefits from a smaller, more connected community, focusing on challenges that are shared by all four countries. I have worked in Northern Ireland before when I was at NICE (National Institute of Health and Care Excellence) and SCIE (Social Care Institute of Excellence) but have not visited for a while, so I was really looking forward to it.

We started with a discussion with the Chief Nursing Officer, Charlotte McArdle, covering how health and social care is organised in Northern Ireland, key issues for nursing, and how the NMC works with Charlotte and other colleagues there. It was great to get Charlotte’s views on what is working well and what we can do to improve.

We visited the headquarters of one of the 17 GP Federations and met a group of advanced nurse practitioners. They were inspirational, showing such an enthusiasm for their role. I asked what had motivated them to take on this new role and they described their desire to do more to support patients in the community. Then one of them said "I love my job. I don't get Monday morning blues and when I go home I'm looking forward to going back in the morning." It was simple and powerful and showed how much being a nurse meant to them all.  

We then visited an intermediate care service run by Four Seasons Healthcare – an example of constructive collaboration between the independent and public sectors helping people in their recovery and rehabilitation. There we met Stacey who had progressed from being a healthcare assistant to be a nurse and now completing her Master's. It was a great story of determination and commitment. 

Our final visit was to a midwifery-led unit where we had a really helpful discussion about the new midwifery standards, use of evidence and the impact of poor mental health on women and their families amongst lots of other topics. Again, they were so inspiring about the role of midwives helping women when things are going well but also when there are problems. 

Chief nursing officers

On Tuesday, I joined the chief nursing officers for England, Wales and Northern Ireland for their regular meeting (unfortunately the CNO from Scotland couldn’t be there). These are important relationships for the NMC and it was good to discuss how we can all work together in the future.

Nursing associates celebrations

That trip to Northern Ireland would normally be the highlight of the week but on Wednesday we also had the reception at the House of Commons to celebrate the opening of our register to nursing associates. It was a joyous occasion with over 40 nursing associates attending with the people who had supported their training and education plus our partners from Health Education England, the Department of Health and Social Care and many more.  

Lord Willis hosted the reception and the Minister Stephen Hammond spoke in support of the new profession. The best speeches came from Lia and Jed who are among the first nursing associates. Lia spoke about being a mum of three completing the course – it was tough but she really enjoyed the opportunity. Jed was 60 when he started the course and with great humour he described how he had won round critics as he showed what a positive contribution nursing associates can make. He now plans to progress to train as a nurse.

I had the opportunity to say a few words too.  I focused on three things:

  • Congratulations – to the nursing associates. They have been true pioneers – being first isn’t easy, it takes bravery and courage which they have shown by the bucketful. 
  • Thanks – there is a very long list of people and organisations involved in the success of the nursing associate programme: the nursing associates themselves; nurses in practice and education who have supported them, partners like Health Education England, the Council of Deans, the Department of Health and Social Care, and of course colleagues at the NMC. 
  • Being positive – as I have said before, none of this matters if it doesn’t make a difference for people using health and care services. From my conversations I had with so many Nursing Associates that evening, seeing their enthusiasm, pride and commitment to the role – I am very positive that they will make that difference.

LGBT History Month

And last but not least on my highlights list was the LGBT+ Forum's film night as part of LGBT History Month. The film was a documentary Paris Is Burning about the New York ball scene in the 1980's. It was fascinating and sad – made even more so by following through the lives of the people featured on the pages of Wikipedia when I got home to find that most of them have since died of Aids-related illnesses.

This week

The big event this week is the launch of the consultation of the midwifery standards on Tuesday. There will be more information available on the day so please look out for it and encourage anyone interested to respond.


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