Address by Mary Harney, T.D., Minister for Health and Children, at ‘Nursing: Celebrating a New Era’, Farmleigh House, Dublin

Today is a day of celebration for all in our health services. It is a day to celebrate change and progress, and to learn from it to address new challenges.

I am delighted that together we are celebrating the graduation of the first nurses from the degree programmes in general, intellectual disability and psychiatric nursing.

Four years ago, 1,640 young people started out as the first students in our new nursing degree programme. Now, they are the start of a new generation of nurses, a generation that will lead a transformation in nursing and in our health services.

Over the short period of ten years, we have transformed nursing from an apprentice model to a diploma model and now to a degree programme.

I know you will share the tremendous satisfaction and pride I take in seeing Irish people, especially young Irish people, advance their skills and education. You hear some jargon about ‘moving up the value chain’ in industry. But this is what the reality is about: people constantly developing greater skills and being more productive and more satisfied in their work. In health, as in the economy, our future progress depends on advances in education and research.

We are passing another milestone too. The new undergraduate midwifery and integrated children’s/general nursing programmes has commenced this autumn. The four year midwifery degree programme has 140 places each year and the 4½ year integrated children’s/general nursing degree programme offers 100 places each year.

The new programmes will reduce the time it currently takes to train midwives and children’s nurses. Previously the only route to midwifery and children’s nursing was a postgraduate programme.

I expect we will see a direct benefit in specialist nursing and midwifery care for patients in the years ahead.

Leadership and change agenda in health

I want to thank all the people who have worked hard to make this possible, [in the universities, in Bord Altranais, in nurses’ trade unions and in the HSE and Department]. You have shown leadership at all levels.

And as well as leadership, you have shown a quality that was highly recommended by Gro Bruntland at the recent National Consultative Forum on Health, a quality that is often forgotten and under-rated: perseverance.

I believe leadership and perseverance, day-in, day-out, are vital at all levels, from policy-making to patient care, to achieve the progress for patients we all want.

It is the patients whom we are pledged to serve, and it is they and their families, as taxpayers, who pay for that service in all settings. They are entitled to expect a lot for the trust they place in the clinical relationship, and they are equally entitled to expect a lot for the amount they are investing in health and in our salaries.