Nursing research is becoming ever more important in UK healthcare due to an increasing ageing population which means that more people are living with long-term conditions and chronic illnesses. Nursing research can help address the healthcare needs of these patients, enhancing their health and well-being as a result.
Healthcare research has traditionally been dominated by doctors, who undertake research to develop new treatments and halt the spread of disease. This has led to huge improvements in public health and disease prevention, as evidenced by our increasing life expectancy.
While for many, living longer brings many positives, for others it can be marred by ill health. Old age brings an onset of multiple chronic illnesses, such as diabetes, heart disease, dementia and cancer. We need a nursing model of care that focuses on providing support for people living with chronic conditions. Nurses are at the forefront of delivering care to these people and play a key role in identifying and improving quality of life for patients.
Nurses, whether community district nurses visiting patients in their homes or cancer nurses caring for patients undergoing treatment, can help patients manage their health problems.
As the NHS creaks under the burden and strain of this ageing population, supporting patients to manage their own health is becoming increasingly necessary. Growing pressure on hospital resources means there is a need to move patients out of hospitals and into the community. With support from nurses, patients can become more involved in their own care.
Nurses are trained to assess, review and oversee any changes to their patients’ health and lifestyle needs. They have the skills and experience to provide support to patients on a practical, physical, emotional and psychological level. In doing so, they can help patients to identify specific practices, such as dietary changes or exercise regimes, that may improve their symptom control and provide therapeutic benefits.
Evidence-based nursing care
As nurses are at the front line of patient care, they are able to identify gaps in clinical practice and develop ideas and strategies for improving the healthcare needs of patients. So it is essential that nurses are encouraged to undertake nursing research to provide them with the opportunity to address the issues they see in clinical practice. By promoting evidence-based nursing care we can close the gaps between research and practice.
Recent changes to the undergraduate nursing curriculum means that all newly qualified nurses are educated to degree level and should have a baseline level of research training. It is important that we feed this research base and encourage nurses to develop nursing as a science, as well as a caring profession. In doing so, the care of patients can be optimised in the knowledge that they are receiving evidence-based care from compassionate people.
Nursing research into the best ways to provide supportive care to patients is crucial for finding out what works best and what can help patients to live well in older age. Rather than nurses carrying out medically focused research that has been designed by doctors, nurses need to carve out their own nursing-focused areas to research.
This might include designing interventions to help patients to take control of and manage certain aspects of their illness such as fatigue, pain and depression. It could also explore any barriers that might prevent patients in local populations from accessing NHS services and examine ways to remove these barriers. Nursing research can also inform practice by identifying areas in their own clinical setting that need improving, such as referral pathways, wound management or asthma education.
A changing picture of healthcare is on the horizon – and an uncertain future looms for the NHS. As a result, the time is ripe for nurses to become research leaders in their own field and yet remain rooted at the heart of their clinical practice.