Speeches

Speech by Mr Brian Lenihan TD, Minister for Children, at the Official Opening of the New School of Nursing and Midwifery Studies at Trinity College Dublin

Introduction

Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen.  I am delighted to be here today on this historic occasion for nursing education to officially open the School of Nursing and Midwifery Studies at Trinity College Dublin.

The Construction Team

I would like to begin by congratulating the design team, the building contractors and the many others, who committed their time and energy to this project, on their achievement.

I’ve called this a historic occasion and, indeed, I am conscious that I’m standing in a building where the historic and the modern merge.  This janus-like building, the former headquarters of the Dublin Gas Company, which was constructed in 1928, has two completely contrasting facades.  On one side we have the mock-tudor, Hawkin’s St. façade which alludes to a past when Trinity College was still in its infancy, while the sharply contrasting D’Olier St. façade is designed in the Art Deco style, a style which was at the cutting-edge of modern architecture in the 1920s and ‘30s.  The building is almost symbolic of the importance of looking to the future while still acknowledging the wisdom gleaned from the past, an ethos that, I imagine, Trinity College would embrace.

The Art Deco style emerged in the 1920’s as an innovative, modern celebration of the new technological age.  As such, it was the artistic commentary on an age where a combination of World War I and increasing industrialisation brought more and more women into the workplace.  1928, the year this building was constructed, was also the year that women in Ireland and the United Kingdom finally gained full voting rights.

And now this building will be home to the School of Nursing and Midwifery Studies.  The sense of exploration and empowerment embodied in the “roaring” 1920’s is renewed by the current purpose of this building.  The new nursing degree programme will further empower the profession, a profession that has traditionally been the domain of women.

While musing upon history, I would like to look back at the foundation on which the new programme for nurse education in Ireland was built.

Initiation of the Degree Programme

The blueprint for the rejuvenation of nurse education was drafted back in 1998 by the Commission on Nursing, which recommended the implementation of a Nursing Degree Programme to the Government.  The Government expressed its wholehearted commitment to the programme, providing capital funding of over €240 million for the project, almost €32 million of which was allocated to Trinity College Dublin.

This funding was provided to ensure an optimum learning environment for nursing students in Trinity through the provision of purpose-built facilities with state of the art clinical skills and human science laboratories.  More simply put, funding was provided for the creation of a new physical structure which would perfectly support the new academic structure.  I have no doubt that the new School of Nursing and Midwifery here at Trinity will fulfil just such a role and prove a haven for learning for both current and future generations.

The funding provided by the government for pre-registration nursing education is but one of the many building blocks from which the degree programme has been crafted.  Indeed it is due to the energies and efforts of many, many people involved in this innovative new educational programme over the last four years that we have all finally arrived here today.  The institutes of education, the health services, especially TCD’s six partner hospitals, government departments and in particular, the local joint working group to whom I would like to pay special tribute, under the chairpersonship of Professor Cecily Begley; all these groups have carefully and cautiously paved the way forward for Irish nursing education, and the fruit of their combined efforts, the Nursing Degree Programme, is thus a testament to the concept of “progress through partnership”.

Progress through Partnership

Moreover, the concept of “Progress through Partnership” lies at the very heart of the new nursing degree programme.

In this era of vast technological progress and rapid social change, an ever wider range of knowledge and skills is required to manage the diverse needs of patients and populations comprehensively, effectively and efficiently.  It is imperative that the healthcare system be reformed in light of these emerging social needs to ensure that it is as dynamic and fluid as the society it serves.  The health services of the future will therefore require a fresh multi-dimensional approach to the delivery of patient care.  It will be reliant on teams of trained professionals; on nurses, midwives, doctors, therapists, social workers, pharmacists and other providers all working and communicating effectively together.  In short, the health service of the future will require greater inter-disciplinary co-operation in the delivery of health care and, as you are all aware, the reform of health service organisational structures has already begun.

Integrated Learning Philosophy

Yet every new structure, no matter how innovative, requires a solid foundation, the keystone to support the whole, and the health service is no different in this regard.  The partnership-based health service of the future will have its foundation in the academic environment in which health care professionals are trained.

The impetus towards integration in the health services was a central consideration in the implementation of the new pre-registration nursing degree programme.  Education must be configured as a reciprocal endeavour, whereby the knowledge and work of each discipline informs and progresses the others.  The transfer of nurse education to the higher education sector serves to position nursing firmly alongside other health service professionals within an academic environment.  Nurses and nurse educators now have the opportunity to play a greater role in the academic life of our colleges and to advance nursing through scholarly endeavour.

I have no doubt that the School of Nursing and its satellite sites at St. James’s Hospital and Tallaght Hospital will provide a rich, fertile environment for the education and development of health care professionals who will similarly see their professions as part of a larger, collective endeavour.

Degree Programme

The new degree programme offers yet another vital step in the professional development of nursing.  It is a further enhancement of the way in which nursing students are prepared for the profession.  As such, it is envisaged that it will shape a critical mass of excellent practitioners for the future, nurses with a greater level of theoretical grounding, which will in turn allow them to develop their clinical skills to a more sophisticated extent, to work both autonomously and in an inter-disciplinary environment, and to respond to future challenges in health care, for the benefit of patients and clients of the health services alike.

In addition to shaping the skills of the future nurse, the degree will also broaden the horizons of the individual.  By situating the new degree programme in a higher education system, nursing students will be fully integrated into college life.  I am aware that this was a central concern of Trinity’s when they sought to purchase this very building.

The modular system in third-level institutions moreover, will grant nursing students the opportunity to study languages, a definite advantage for the health care services as our society becomes ever more multi-cultural and diverse.

Nurse Teachers

I would like to pay particular tribute today to all nurse teachers who have contributed in no small way to the development of the nursing profession.  I believe that the School of Nursing here in Trinity now has over 50 academic staff members.  These teachers now find themselves faced with the fresh challenge of a new preparatory programme for nurses.

It is envisaged, however, that the implementation of this degree programme will confer benefits not only on the students but also on the teachers and will provide, where desired, the opportunity for further enhancement of the latter’s academic careers.  In this regard, I am aware that the School of Nursing and Midwifery here at Trinity, with its background of academic excellence, is committed to promoting a strong research ethos.  Indeed, the College’s Strategic Plan 2003-2008 cites as one of its four main research pillars “the establishment and application of new knowledge in health sciences and health management”.  Furthermore, Trinity aspires to become the world reference point and leader in this area over the next five to ten years.  I have no doubt that a similar pioneering spirit will be engendered in the nursing students who will study within these walls and who will, in turn, form the fabric of our future health services.

Nursing Careers

With the implementation of the degree programme comes a greater recognition of the level of professionalism attained by qualified nurses.  However, the degree must not be thought of as an end in itself, rather it is a gateway to a plethora of careers in health care, in roles as diverse as that of manager, educator, executive, administrator, researcher and specialist.  Nursing has already reconfigured itself dramatically in this regard and the creation of the new clinical posts of clinical nurse specialist and advanced nurse practitioner within nursing allows for greater career advancement.

In light of these new career possibilities I wish to impress upon nursing students just how much the totality of change is in their hands.  With the transformation of their position within the health care sector to that of a professional with the capacity to rise to the highest positions, they themselves have the chance to initiate changes that will make this country a healthier and more equitable place to live.

Conclusion

Finally I wish all the students the very best of luck as they embark upon this most exciting of challenges.

Thank you.