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Defence nurses share lessons from war

Armistice Day is not only an opportunity to reflect on the sacrifice of the Great War generation, but on how stories from our nursing history are passed on

Armistice Day is not only an opportunity to reflect on the sacrifice of the Great War generation, but on how stories from our nursing history are passed on


Picture: Getty 

As the country prepares to mark this year’s Armistice Day on 11 November, it provides us with an opportunity to remember those who gave their lives, as well as those who did return home.

The first world war was called the ‘war to end all wars’ yet wars and conflict continue to affect millions of people. War is brutal, bloody and causes suffering in myriad ways.  

Healthcare professionals seek to learn, adapt and effect change rapidly in this environment, developing  innovative practice to save lives and limbs.

Experiences of conflict

Nurses in all roles will have been touched by people and families involved in conflict. Members of the RCN defence nursing forum (DNF) have experienced the realities of conflict globally and seen the far-reaching impact at home and abroad. Our unique insights have helped us focus our professional activities to share lessons learned for the good and benefit of others.

In 2014, the DNF joined forces with Nursing Standard to deliver a collaborative project publishing a series of peer-reviewed articles on defence nursing. These coincided with the centenary of the start of the first world war and marked the end of UK operations in Afghanistan.

Collated articles related to the diversity of practice covering mental health, wound care, education, infection prevention and control, infectious diseases and the management of major incidents. 

As these articles are replaced by new thinking and emerging evidence, they will serve as a repository of knowledge for future generations, to consider how we worked during recent military operations.

All patient groups

Not all service personnel involved in conflict are injured, but they will all leave service and may call themselves veterans. As nurses we provide complex care to this group as their lives continue.

We recognise that people of all ages are affected by conflicts and sadly many become innocent casualties of war. 

To explore and raise the profile of all patient groups, the DNF has held workshops exploring surgical and trauma care in resource-limited environments, invited speakers from non-governmental organisations to share their thoughts and experiences, and discussed ethical and professional issues on deployed operations, rehabilitation aspects and shared best practice.

Considering history

Last year’s defence nursing library exhibition, developed in conjunction with the RCN History of Nursing Society, provided an opportunity to further share lessons learned over many conflicts.  

At the launch event a former patient and his wife spoke of the personal impact conflict has had on them as a family and provided valuable insights into the determination and resilience of people in life after conflict.

Nurses aid people to focus on the importance of living for today as well as facing up to and preparing for the uncertainties of tomorrow.

Armistice Day is about focusing on the end of the first world war and the generation that gave so much for our future. But as nurses it is also an opportunity to reflect and consider how the personal stories from our nursing history are passed on. In 100 years’ time, how will future generations of nurses judge our actions in recent operations? 


Anna Crossley is RCN professional lead for acute, emergency and critical care

Chris Carter is senior teaching fellow global health, King’s College London, and chair of the RCN defence nursing forum

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