Alice Leahy, Director & Co-Founder of TRUST; with the 3 Public Health Nurses who received Miller Trust Research Scholarship – Cora Williams, Elizabeth Healy and Patricia O’Dwyer. The presentation ceremony took place at a special seminar organised by the Institute of Community Health Nursing in Cork (Friday, January 21, 2005) at which Alice also delivered the Key Note Address below.

“Nurses and frontline care workers must have confidence to defend the most vulnerable and society must support them in that role”

“Must resist being treated as invisible because we work with society’s invisible people”

“Legislation must be put in place to protect their right to act as advocates in defense of patients and the most vulnerable”
– Alice Leahy, Director and Co-Founder of TRUST Speaking in Cork at the presentation of scholarships to Public Health Nurses

“As nurses we work in a health and social service where promotions and advancement are denied to those who speak out in defense of the most vulnerable – which is more important than ever given conditions in the services today,” ALICE LEAHY, Director and Co-Founder of TRUST, the social and health service for people who are homeless, said today (Friday, January 21, 2005.)

Alice Leahy went on: “To make a difference in helping the most vulnerable, Nurses must have the confidence and support to speak out especially in defense of vulnerable patients – the real outsiders in the system – and have the legal right to act as advocates on their behalf. Some might describe that as a “whistle blowers charter for nurses” but I can think of no better group to be awarded that protection.”

Alice Leahy was speaking at the annual presentation of the Miller Trust scholarships in Cork organised by the Institute of Community Health Nursing. The scholarships were awarded to three public heath nurses who are undertaking research projects that focus on nursing and deprivation and vulnerability in Cork. This year’s recipients were Cora Williams (Public Health Nurse working in Primary Health Programme for Travellers); Elizabeth Healy (Public Health Nurse, Ballyphehane) and Patricia O’Dwyer (Lecturer, School of Nursing, UCC).

Alice Leahy said the most critical problem facing the health and social services today is that the voices of frontline workers especially in the so-called caring professions are not heard. “We constantly hear complaints that health services are insensitive to people’s needs and allegations that unfeeling bureaucracy is out of touch. In most cases this is true but only because those in the frontline with the knowledge and experience are not consulted.”

Conditions in the services for homeless people very closely mirror those in the health services Alice Leahy said. “This is why we highlight the needs of people who are homeless on the streets of our cities and towns as outsiders. They are outsiders because they are not listened to and in most instances cannot cope with the pressures to comply that they must face when they seek help. If managers driving service provision are not in touch with that reality and force frontline workers to operate according to policies and practices that tend to frighten and exclude the most vulnerable we should not be surprised that the numbers sleeping out remain stubbornly high,” Alice Leahy said.

“We must also resist, especially those of us working with people who are invisible in society becoming invisible ourselves, or nothing will ever change as we will not be taken seriously and our voices will not be heard. In that context it is also very important that we do not let a two tier system develop in nursing between those who have degrees and those who do not have these new qualifications so that we do not create any new barriers as we seek to end the era of invisibility of nurses working with society’s most vulnerable.”

ALICE LEAHY continued: “Nurses have a responsibility to speak out to ensure that the health and social services are designed to help the most vulnerable rather than the other way around. I would urge nurses in the community to take a leadership role in changing the perception of the traditional role of the nurse, especially as perceived by senior managers, and assert that we have a dynamic dual role as both health care professional and advocate in defence of the outsider when it is necessary.”

“We must challenge what is going on and refuse to be taken for granted. The current state of the health service came about because nurses and other frontline workers, were not taken seriously by senior management. This meant that an unfeeling and insensitive regime of cut backs fell hardest on the most vulnerable. Now in a time of plenty if our voices are not heard on behalf of the outsiders the same will happen again and the system will only be made to work better for the better off,” Alice Leahy said.