Hannah visited the Houses of Parliament and writes about her experience
Student Nurse visit to the Houses of Parliament
Hannah Smith Sept 15 Pre Reg MA Nursing Student
When I was given the opportunity to be one of the first student leaders for the @WeNurses Twitter account in January 2016, I did not anticipate the opportunities that would come my way as a result. During the year spent in the role, I’ve been able to make connections with qualified and student nurses around the country, I’ve attended the Cavell Trust awards, and most recently, I was able to attend the Houses of Parliament!
If you’re reading this then most likely you’re aware of the NHS bursary situation. In 2015, the government announced its plans to scrap the bursary for healthcare pre-registration courses, and introduce tuition fees. The nursing community was not impressed with this, and a petition was set up via the UK Government petitions website (https://petition.parliament.uk/) to keep the bursary. The Petitions Committee, formed in 2015, considers any petition on this site which reaches 100,000 signatures for a debate in the House of Commons, with most resulting in a debate being scheduled. Before the debate on the 11th January 2016, @WeNurses hosted a Twitter debate alongside London South Bank University, and Teresa Chinn, the nurse behind @WeNurses, attended a pre-debate round table event with the Petitions Committee to share the thoughts and points discussed on Twitter, ensuring that the voices of those affected by the bursary were heard.
Unfortunately, the debate did not change the government’s mind on the matter, and the scrapping of the bursary is still going ahead. However, due to Teresa’s involvement in the build up to the debate, she was invited to an event marking the Petitions Committee’s first year, and myself and my fellow @WeNurses student leader were invited too!
The event was held in Portcullis House, the more modern of the Houses of Parliament, and once through the airport-style security you are surrounded by glass and politicians. I even saw Jeremy Corbyn, although only from a distance! We then found the room we needed to be in, and were able to grab a number of free pens (with black ink), always a plus when you’re a nursing student!
The event started by explaining that the Petitions Committee and associated petitions website had been started to make the process of petitioning more fit for purpose, practical, interactive and accessible for the public. It also means that it is harder for petitions to be pushed aside and ignored, as the Petitions Committee guarantees that at 10,000 signatures a response will be given from the relevant government department, and at 100,000 signatures, it will be considered for debate.
During the first year that the Petitions site was running, the area which had the highest number of petitions was health services and medicine, which I think demonstrates how invested we are in the health of our country. Despite the NHS Bursary petition not resulting in a change, two of the biggest changes brought about through petitions were health related, and we heard from the people who had initiated these petitions.
The first was the sugary drinks tax petition. It has been found that sugary drinks are the largest source of sugar in children and young people’s diets, and a major contribution to childhood obesity. In collaboration with the group Sustain, Jamie Oliver publicised a petition to put a tax on sugary drinks at the end of his documentary on sugar. The petition gained 100,000 signatures in just 3 days, and as such triggered the Petitions Committee to investigate the issue. After a debate in the House of Commons, the government have agreed to put a tax on sugary drinks from 2018 onwards.
The second health-related petition discussed was one which called for more funding for research into brain tumours. Despite killing more people under 40 than any other type of cancer, brain tumour research only receives 1.87% of the national spend on cancer research. When Maria Lester, whose brother had died from a brain tumour at the age of 26, heard these figures she was shocked, and so she set up the petition calling for increased funding. The initial Government response to the petition after 10,000 wasn’t great, and so the Petitions Committee launched its own inquiry into the issue. The evidence they collected was used in the debate that was scheduled after the petition reached 120,000 signatures, after which the Government agreed that more funding and research was urgently needed to improve patient outcomes. They have now created a working group of clinicians, charities and officials to look into this.
Attending this event was a great opportunity which has given me a greater understanding of how the public can affect change through petitions, and in particular how as nursing students’ and nurses have the opportunity to try and change the things which affect our patients and their health. It has also highlighted to me how important social media is for this – the majority of people signing petitions on the site come to them through links on Facebook and Twitter. Although some nurses shy away from using social media in a professional capacity, it can be so important for networking, increasing your knowledge, and affecting change for our patients and our health service. I am also going to remember how important petitions can be in highlighting key issues within our health service, as well as particular health issues such as obesity, and hopefully stay active in this by signing petitions and maybe even starting one myself someday!
If you take only one thing away from reading this, let it be that opportunities for nursing students are out there – you just need to find them! Twitter is a treasure trove of information and opportunities, and it can be these extra-curricular things which will make the difference between you getting your dream nursing job, or being pipped to the post!