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Come to Congress - you'll never be the same again!

Lynn Young
Primary Healthcare Adviser

The RCN Congress 2005 and the general election came and went. For me, though, Congress was far more interesting, exhilarating and inspiring than the election.
There is something rather special about a gathering of thousands of nurses from across the UK who work in a variety of settings ranging from special hospitals to prisons, intensive care units, health centres and hospices. The breadth and depth of the nursing profession come together as a disagreeing but agreeable diverse family for the best part of a week each year to debate, discuss and learn. My message to you is to think about attending at least one RCN Congress during your nursing career - I promise you will never be the same again!
But, for some reason, this year was a particularly enjoyable Congress. Humour was high, energy excessive, the mood melodic, and feverish fun was in abundance. More important, the level of debate was high and there was ample scope for the public expression of diverse and intelligent views. Nurses are an interesting lot, and it was impressive to hear the level of wisdom, passion and knowledge expressed during the week.
It is important to talk about the national political picture. The new Secretary of State for Health Patricia Hewitt and her team of merry ministers have been named. Health reform will continue, but a number of initiatives may not be introduced. However, we do know that the GMS Contract continues with its bold implementation and is now under review. The RCN and other organisations have the opportunity to submit evidence aimed at introducing small changes and amendments. Attention is focusing on the implementation of the principles of Agenda for Change for GP-employed nurses. While we believe that a mandate is unrealistic, it may be possible for further incentives to be built into the Contract that will encourage GPs to see sense and introduce pay modernisation.
The Working in Partnership Programme has funded two projects - one for nurses and another for the development of healthcare assistants (HCAs) in general practice, and much progress has been achieved in terms of appointing project managers and pilot sites. The hope is that the result of these exciting projects will bring positive benefits to general practice - nurses, HCAs, other members of the primary care team, and of course patient care and public health.
Before the election, the government demonstrated commitment to public health improvement and the reduction of health inequalities. This agenda will now gather steam with new health trainers being appointed in all primary care trusts and yet more campaigns on the prevention and management of binge drinking, smoking and unhealthy sexual activity.
Sex can be a tricky business, and the nation is now in a frightful mess regarding sexually transmitted diseases - chlamydia in particular - and teenage unplanned pregnancies. We still lag behind other European nations with our appalling statistics in this domain, so much work and tenacity is required by nurses to help improve this health disaster.
We need to work hard to make general practice an attractive place for newly qualified nurses to work in. Gone are the days of the myth that a nurse could enter the community only following two years' postregistration. I was so fortunate to meet many student nurses at Congress 2005 who without exception expressed heartfelt desires to work in the community as soon as they could possibly get the right job. And why? According to these fine young people, it was in the community where they learnt how to nurse patients in the way they wanted, patient-centred, kindly and considered.
This was very humbling for me, someone who has been joined for so many years to primary care, but a message that I am sharing with my numerous community nurse colleagues who still work bravely at the frontline.