By Geri Katz
MNA Healthcare Reform Specialist
A few weeks ago I wrote a post about the parliamentary election in the U.K., and the Labour Party’s pledge to enact a nationwide safe staffing law if they won a majority of the votes. While the Labour Party shocked observers and the Conservative Party by taking many more seats than expected, they did not win a majority. But U.K. nurses have won another victory that’s worth noting.
Eleanor Smith, a theatre (surgical) nurse for the National Health Service (NHS) was elected as part of the wave of Labour victories on June 8. Smith was driven to run for Parliament by Conservative austerity measures imposed on the National Health System (NHS), including a pay cap on nurses.
Prior to her election to Parliament, Smith, the daughter of African-Caribbean immigrants, was the first black woman to serve as president of her union, Unison.
Smith cited her career as a nurse as one of the factors that attracted voters to her. Their respect for her 35 years as a nurse gave her added credibility on issues like healthcare funding and public services. Her priorities in office will include removing the pay cap on nurses, enacting safe staffing legislation, and reversing the elimination of NHS grants for nursing students facing high tuition costs (which has dramatically decreased the number of students willing to go into nursing).
Smith’s election highlights the role of nurses and nursing unions in politics and policy-making. Her role as a nursing leader propelled her to elected office, and she believes other nurses are equally ready to make a difference in public policy. Smith asserts that nurses are already “political” because they advocate for their patients’ best interests.
“You raise your head above the parapet and speak about any issue or concerns about patients or services – you then become political. Because you are not sitting back – you are advocating. “And that’s what politicians do – advocate for people.” – Nursingtimes.net