Irish nursing comes of age


Irish nursing, which has long been the pride of the Irish nation, is set to become the envy of the world. It should, certainly, already be the envy of Europe (Cowman, 2001). In 1998, the Irish Commission on Nursing (1998), having surveyed preregistration nursing education internationally (Tyrrell, 1998) recommended to the Irish government that preregistration nursing education be moved entirely into the third-level education sector which includes universities and some other institutions, which are referred to as higher education elsewhere. This recommendation was accepted and by the year 2000 Nursing Education Forum (2000) established as a direct result of the Commission on Nursing by the Minister for Health and Children, reported. The report of the Nurse Education Forum covered the recruitment and selection of nurses, the educational aspects of any new programme and those aspects of the curriculum concerned with learning in practice.

The move of preregistration nursing education into higher education in Ireland is in direct contrast to the developments which have taken place in nursing at the behest of the Department of Health (1999) in the UK since 1999. While there remains a label of ‘graduate education’ for nurses in the UK, the substance has all but gone and these changes have been lamented elsewhere (Watson & Thompson, 2000; Thompson & Watson, 2001). However, the contrast does not end there; at the same time as the Department of Health in the UK insisted that there be widespread interviewing for entry to nursing programmes (a move, incidentally, which was more geared towards recruitment than selection and very much in line with the widening of the entry gates to nursing) the widespread practice of interviewing applicants to nursing programmes in Ireland is to be abolished. Nursing students in Ireland are to be selected purely on the basis of their academic ability and, of course, this begs the question: on what other basis could a person be admitted to a course of study in a university?

Following on from the changes in preregistration nurse education, the Department of Health and Children (2003) have published a research strategy for nursing and midwifery in Ireland and this makes refreshing reading too. The document is unashamedly about the development of nursing and midwifery. While there have been substantial and successful moves in the UK to invest in nursing and midwifery research it is almost impossible to establish funding for nursing and midwifery research if it is not attached to the funding of allied health professionals. In itself, this is not wrong but there is a certain reluctance to identify nursing as a distinct entity in the UK and there are definitely moves to blur the interprofessional boundaries (Department of Health, 2000): something which can only be to the detriment of nursing and midwifery as professions.

The Irish nursing and midwifery research strategy draws on commitment at three levels: national, institutional and professional, in its recommendations. The national commitment begins with a survey to identify research priorities and publishing a report of research completed to date with the establishment of a joint appointment between the National Council for the Professional Development of Nursing and Midwifery and the Health Research Board. In addition, nurses and midwives will be represented on Science Foundation Ireland and the Health Research Board. At institutional level there will be encouragement for the development of nursing and midwifery research units and research programmes and directions for the freeing of resources for research. The professional commitment will be operated through the An Bord Altranais (Irish Nursing Board) and the National Council for the Professional Development of Nursing and Midwifery who will insist on the inclusion of research for programme approval.

There are other developments in Irish nursing and midwifery which indicate that significant changes are taking place and these include the establishment of The All Ireland Journal of Nursing and Midwifery (Watson, 2002). This journal is a cross-border initiative involving an editor from Northern Ireland and one from Ireland and was set up with funding for such initiatives. The journal tries to address Irish nursing where it is, in other words in need of development on the research front, but it also publishes scholarly articles based on research and practice. In due course it is hoped that the latter will feature more prominently.

These are early days in Irish nursing, as it moves into higher education. Irish nurses have had the benefit of some hindsight in the UK, the rest of Europe and beyond. Clearly some lessons have been learned and implemented in Ireland; it will be interesting to note how long it takes in order for the rest of the world – and especially the UK, Ireland's nearest neighbour – to learn from developments in Irish nursing.