‘We must value nurses more’: celebrities share their appreciation

Famous names speak up for nurses as poet Michael Rosen prepares to share his moving account of what nurses mean to him at RCNi’s Nursing Live event

Famous names speak up for nurses as poet Michael Rosen prepares to share his moving account of what nurses mean to him at RCNi’s Nursing Live event

Poet Michael Rosen, Nursing Live logo with dates and venue inset
Nursing Live keynote speaker, poet Michael Rosen

The work of nurses may not always get the recognition it deserves, but a number of high profile people are doing their bit to change that.

From Tony Blair’s former spin doctor to one of the country’s best loved poets, famous advocates of the profession tell Nursing Standard why they value nurses so highly.

Michael Rosen: ‘Nurses saved my life – probably several times’

Poet and author Michael Rosen is a staunch ally of nurses. The former children’s laureate, who will be a keynote speaker at Nursing Live, RCNi’s upcoming free event for nurses and nursing students, even wrote a poem in tribute to nursing staff after recovering from serious illness due to COVID-19. Its title is This Is You, You’re Looking at You, and it encourages nurses to take a moment for themselves.

Overwhelmed by nurses’ care and knowledge

Mr Rosen tells Nursing Standard he was ‘overwhelmed by the care and knowledge’ of the nurses who looked after him during his 48 days in an intensive care unit in 2020.

‘Doctors and nurses saved my life – probably several times,’ he says. ‘Nurses kept a diary of the time I was in intensive care. I am overwhelmed by the care and knowledge that they brought to bear to make sure I came out alive. I want to express my admiration and gratitude at every opportunity I get.’

‘Nurses show us the best of what we can be: cooperating with each other for the purpose of caring for people, saving and healing lives’

Mr Rosen needed a ventilator for the majority of the time he was in intensive care and has said that at one point his oxygen saturation levels were at 58%.

Nurses should be rewarded for their qualities

It was not the first time Mr Rosen had been indebted to the care of nurses.

‘When I was 17, I was knocked down in the road,’ he says. ‘I was in hospital and a rehabilitation centre for ten weeks. At all times, nurses were making my life the best it could be. Another time I was diagnosed with severe hypothyroidism and had to spend some time in a metabolic unit and nurses made it possible to get me well.’

‘In an ideal world, we would imitate those principles of cooperation, compassion and care’

Mr Rosen, who also spoke of his gratitude for nurses at last year’s RCN congress, was a vocal supporter of recent industrial action over pay and conditions by nursing staff. He believes there is much others can learn from nurses’ qualities.

‘Nurses show us the best of what we can be: cooperating with each other for the purpose of caring for people, saving and healing lives,’ he says.

‘In an ideal world, we would recognise this, reward nurses properly and imitate those principles of cooperation, compassion and care.’

See Michael Rosen at Nursing Live

Hear award-winning author and poet Michael Rosen talk about his experiences of the NHS and share his admiration for nurses at Nursing Live – a unique, free event for nurses brought to you by RCNi.

Register now and find out what else to expect at the two-day event, to be held on Friday 10 and Saturday 11 November 2023 at the Exhibition Centre Liverpool.

Free event: find out more and sign up for Nursing Live

Alastair Campbell: ‘It’s not just about nurses’ pay, but about status and respect’

Picture of journalist and political strategist Alastair Campbell who speaks of his appreciation for nurses after needing mental health support
Alastair Campbell Picture: Alamy

Journalist and writer Alastair Campbell was then Labour leader Tony Blair’s official spokesperson during his time as prime minister. He has also campaigned on mental health and spoken of his struggles with depression. In March 2022 he launched the podcast The Rest is Politics with former Tory MP and leadership contender Rory Stewart. His latest book But What Can I Do? was published in 2023.

One of Alastair’s Campbell’s earliest memories of nursing care is breaking his leg as a child. ‘I was staying at my uncle’s farm and I remember being a long way from the hospital in Oban,’ says Mr Campbell. ‘I was taken in an ambulance and it was a nurse who sat with me on and off for several hours while I was waiting to be seen.’

Over the years he has had several experiences of care. ‘I’ve had more than my fair share of hospitalisations for various incidents,’ says Mr Campbell. This includes being admitted in 1986 with psychosis.

Patients rely on nurses

He has also witnessed the care given to family members. ‘My brother Donald died a few years ago and he had schizophrenia,’ says Mr Campbell. ‘When he was in hospital, you always knew he didn’t see the psychiatrist that much, while those who really knew what was going on were the nurses.

‘After he died and we went to see his body and collect his possessions, you could tell the nurses had taken to him as a character and were talking about him in a warm way. That’s what nurses do. The NHS is quite hierarchical, but the truth is when you’re in hospital, you’re far more reliant on nursing staff.’

Picture of Alastair Campbell playing bagpipes for his neighbour’s nurse daughter during the pandemic
Picture: X (Twitter)

‘Why should we have to say nurses should be valued and paid a fair deal? It ought to be a matter of universal acceptance’

Although he did join in with the weekly ‘clap for carers’ during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, he admits to being reluctant. ‘I slightly resented it,’ he says. ‘I thought it was being exploited by the government – and I feel that even more strongly now. It was a great idea, but I felt uncomfortable as it was used politically. But we did go out every Thursday night.’

On one memorable evening, he played the bagpipes for his neighbour’s daughter as she returned home from a 12-hour nursing shift at the Whittington Hospital in north London.

Nurses deserve a high status

‘It would have been good if there had been a recognition that we can’t do without these people and we should pay them more, not less – but the opposite has happened,’ says Mr Campbell. ‘It’s not that we’ve gone backwards to where we were, but we’ve gone back beyond that. What we’re seeing in relation to the strikes and the government playing hard ball is a reversal of the values we ought to have.

‘If you think of those who have a high status these days, it’s bankers, journalists and lawyers. But with the challenges the country faces, we should value nurses and doctors much more. They are the people who aren’t making that much money, but doing some amazing work… it’s not just about pay but about status and respect. You go into hospitals now and see signs saying abuse of staff won’t be tolerated and you think, why should that even be a thing?’

The right people need to be valued

Mr Campbell is happy to speak up for nurses, but disappointed it feels necessary, he says. ‘There shouldn’t be a need for it. Why should we have to say nurses should be valued and paid a fair deal? It ought to be a matter of universal acceptance. But it’s not. Since austerity, there’s been a sense that people who work in public services aren’t that good at what they do. I don’t understand it – it’s so demotivating. Morale is important to all of us. It’s how we feel about what we’re doing.

‘The minimum we have to hope for is a change of government, and of course I’d say that, but we need more than that too,’ says Mr Campbell. ‘There has to be an understanding that we need a change in the values the country holds. We need to get back to a place where we value the right people. This is the only country in the world where “do-gooding” is a term of abuse.’

Sophie Ward: ‘The nursing care our family experienced was extraordinary’

Actor and author Sophie Ward appeared in the television series Heartbeat and Holby City. Her debut novel, Love And Other Thought Experiments, was longlisted for the Booker Prize in 2020. She became a patron of the Cavell Nurses’ Trust after her father, the actor Simon Ward, died in 2012.

Cavell Nurses’ Trust patron Sophie Ward, who is an actress
Sophie Ward Picture: Alamy

Care and practical support during an emotional time

Witnessing the care her father received during his later years inspired Sophie Ward’s decision to become a patron of the Cavell Nurses’ Trust. ‘My main experience of nursing care that was life-changing was during the time that my father was ill and dying,’ she says.

‘He had an illness that was diagnosed a long time before he died, so he had a lot of nursing care. For at least the last year of his life, he was in and out of hospital and needed palliative care. Throughout all of those experiences it was just extraordinary the level of care he received and what a difference it made – for the family, as well as my father. It’s an emotional time, but there are also practical decisions to be made about the kind of care someone needs and what’s best for them.’

‘We shouldn’t take the work nurses do for granted’

After being approached by the charity, she was delighted to accept the role of patron. ‘It’s a wonderful charity in the name of a wonderful woman,’ says Ms Ward, whose role involves attending a variety of different events and award ceremonies, as well as helping to publicise how the charity supports nursing staff and midwives who are facing personal or financial hardship.

‘I hope nurses’ status has gone up in recent years, we shouldn’t take their work for granted’

‘Really I just want to say a big thank you to all nurses,’ says Ms Ward. ‘I’m also incredibly grateful to the midwives who helped when I had my children. I was lucky enough to have home births and their instinct for what was needed, their knowledge and support, were especially important at that time. Fortunately, I didn’t need any nursing care during the pandemic, but I did go and get my vaccine and was grateful to the person there who had obviously decided to return to work to help out.’

A supporter of the recent nurses’ strikes, she feels the profession isn’t adequately recognised. ‘I hope their status has gone up in recent years. But like others who are on the front line, including teachers, I don’t think they are rewarded enough. Speaking up for nurses is a tiny thing, but we shouldn’t take the work they do for granted.’

Helena Bonham Carter: ‘Nurses have been there for our loved ones’

 Actress Helena Bonham-Carter who is a distant relative of nurse Florence Nightingale
Actor Helena Bonham Carter speaks during the annual Westminster Abbey service for the Florence Nightingale Foundation, to mark nurses’ contribution to the community Picture: Alamy

Acknowledging nurses’ dedication

Helena Bonham Carter, who is a distant relative of Florence Nightingale, gave a reading at a special service at Westminster Abbey in May 2021, to mark the contribution, dedication and sacrifice of nurses and midwives during the pandemic.

Of nurses, she said: ‘They have been there for our loved ones – our mothers, our fathers, our friends – providing care and comfort to patients during this horrendous pandemic. Some have lost their lives. They have selflessly put their lives on hold to support others under the most stressful of circumstances and we are all indebted to them.’

Sian Williams: ‘Nurses sometimes underestimate the impact they have on people’

Former BBC Breakfast TV presenter Sian Williams is now a counselling psychologist, currently working for the Centre for Anxiety, Stress and Trauma (CAST), established at Central and North West London NHS Foundation Trust. She also presents the BBC Radio 4 series Life Changing, in which she talks to people who have lived through extraordinary events that have reshaped their lives.

The importance of compassionate care

Presenter Sian Williams whose mother and grandmother were nurses
Sian Williams Picture: Alamy

Caring for others is a strong thread running through Sian Williams’ family. Her mother and grandmother were both nurses, her grandfather was a doctor, as is her son, and her brother also works in the NHS.

Of her mother and grandmother, she says: ‘I remember both of them being extremely caring and working incredibly hard. The ethos of looking after other people went so deep in our family.

‘What I recollect from my mum was the importance of compassionate care. I learned a lot from the way they dealt with people.’

‘I’ll never forget the kindness of my breast cancer nurse’

But while her mother had hoped she might follow in the family’s caring tradition, there was a slight hiccup. ‘I can’t stand the sight of blood,’ says Dr Williams. ‘I was never going to be a nurse. Sadly she was never to know that I would become a doctor in counselling psychology. She would have been so proud.’

Much of her mother’s nursing career was spent in intensive care. ‘She did some incredible things that she was very humble about. I think she did a lot more than she gave herself credit for,’ she says. ‘It was a really tough job,’ she adds, with a lot of physical lifting, combined with witnessing trauma and death. ‘It must have been hard, but she didn’t talk about it a lot. Sometimes I was aware that the day had weighed more heavily on her.’

Diagnosed with breast cancer in 2014, Dr Williams is especially grateful to the nursing staff who cared for her. ‘It must be awful having a journalist as a patient, as we ask questions all the time,’ she says. ‘But they were always so lovely. I’m still in touch with one nurse in particular, who was my breast cancer nurse. She was so kind at such a difficult time. I feel emotional thinking about her even now. I’ll never forget her kindness. Nurses sometimes underestimate the impact they can have on people who are really frightened. It is huge.’

Rewarding nurses is about ensuring they want to stay

Dr Williams’ work at CAST involves supporting front-line workers, including nursing staff who were working in intensive care during COVID-19. ‘It was difficult for nurses to do their jobs in the way they’d like to during the pandemic,’ she says. ‘Sometimes they felt unable to do the things that they felt were really important to patient care because of the restrictions COVID put upon them. I could see how hard it was.’

‘There’s a lot of focus on pay, but it’s about more than that’

Recognising the current pressures faced by nursing staff, she believes some searching questions need to be asked. ‘The NHS relies on the dedication and commitment of its staff. It’s held up by people who are committed to doing public service,’ says Dr Williams.

‘We should keep reminding ourselves how profoundly grateful we are, while at the same time looking at how we attract, retain and reward nursing staff, because we’re losing people all the time. It’s not enough just saying thank you. We need to push for things to be done in a way where nurses feel rewarded and want to stay in their profession. There’s a lot of focus on pay – but it’s about more than that.’

Rob Delaney: ‘I would walk through fire for our nurses’

During the recent nursing strikes, a host of prominent people voiced their support for the industrial action and the nurses taking part.

Among them were comedians Judi Love, Jo Brand and Dane Baptiste, singers Rod Stewart and Kate Bush, and TV stars Louise Thompson and Paddy McGuinness.

‘So grateful…let’s get them the pay rise they deserve’

Actor and comedian Rob Delaney, a vocal advocate for the NHS, tweeted his ‘undying support’ saying: ‘What can I do to help? I would walk through fire for our nurses…’

In 2016, the actor’s son was diagnosed with a brain tumour, and he later died aged two years. Mr Delaney wrote on social media that the NHS staff who helped his son would be his ‘heroes until the day I die’.

Actor and comedian Rob Delaney advocates for nurses
Actor and writer Rob Delaney speaks ahead of an NHS SOS march in London Picture: Stephen Chung/Alamy

The unmatched care and skill of nurses

Mr Delaney is a passionate supporter of nurses and joined striking staff on the picket line at Great Ormond Street Hospital in 2022.

At the time, he tweeted: ‘So grateful for their unmatched care and skill. Let’s get them the pay rise they deserve.’ He also attended the NHS SOS rally in March this year.