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Nurses are expert professionals, not heroes – chief nursing officer

Ruth May was speaking on International Nurses' Day. Credit: PA

Nurses are not heroes, but expert professionals, England’s chief nursing officer has said.

Ruth May spoke at an event on Tuesday marking International Nurses’ Day, an annual celebration of the anniversary of Florence Nightingale’s birth.

As well as marking 200 years since the nursing pioneer was born, 2020 has been declared the International Year of the Nurse and Midwife.

Speaking to around 20 socially distanced nurses outside St Thomas’ Hospital, Ms May praised nursing and midwifery staff around the world for their work during the pandemic.

She said: “It isn’t the Year of the Nurse we all wanted.

“But in many ways the spotlight is even more on the care, the expertise, the skill that nurses deliver day in, day out.”

Credit: PA

The chief nursing officer later said that while support from the public was welcome, some misconceptions remained.

She told the PA news agency: “I’m very pleased that people show their appreciation on a Thursday evening, it is quite lovely to hear that, but actually these people, these nurses, are professionals.

“I’ve seen a few (misconceptions) about us being heroes, about us being there with our hat.

“No, we’re not heroes – we are expert professionals who are doing our jobs and providing skilled, compassionate care, and nurses and midwives across England should be very proud of themselves right now.”

An image to celebrate Florence Nightingale's birthday projected onto St Thomas' Hospital. Credit: PA

Ms May added that she hoped for a “bumper crop” of people joining the nursing profession later this year.

“Please, come and join us. It is challenging, it is hard work, but it is a huge privilege to be a nurse,” she said.

Tuesday’s event was held in the garden of St Thomas’ Hospital in central London, where Florence Nightingale established her nursing school 160 years ago.

Toni Lynch, deputy chief nurse at Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust, said Nightingale’s work continued to impact modern nursing.

She told PA: “We know her as a pioneer and a trailblazer and she bucked the trend in some ways.

“She started to set out some of the key principles of nursing that we hold dear today – for example, the principles of hand washing and infection prevention and control.”

Ms Lynch added that working on the frontline was “hugely rewarding” during the pandemic.

She said: “It’s really upbeat. Most people have had to change what they do…So we’ve had to come together as a nursing team.

“The morale has been really upbeat as we galvanised as a team.”