Practice nursing ‘awoke’ political hunger in election hopeful

Ellen Nicholson told Nursing Times that feeling powerless to help her patients with their wider challenges beyond those related to their health while she worked in general practice had “awoken” a passion in her to enter politics. 

“I would like to see the profile of general practice nursing higher up”

Ellen Nicholson 

“When you are actually in nursing in primary care, you can treat the health side things that you see in people but you can’t go much further and there’s some awful things that you actually see, some people’s social circumstances, problems with education, problems with housing, and I think it awoke the desire to actually want to do something about those as well,” she said. 

Ms Nicholson, course director and module lead for general practice nursing at London South Bank University, said the “lack of recognition” for the nursing profession and, in particular, nurses in general practice had also caused her to set her eyes on Whitehall. 

In April, Ms Nicholson was selected unopposed as the Liberal Democrat parliamentary candidate to fight the South West Wiltshire seat in the next general election, which is officially scheduled to take place in May 2022 but is widely predicted to happen this autumn.

Qualifying as a state enrolled nurse in Salisbury during 1988 and as a registered nurse in 1991, Ms Nicholson developed a flavour for politics when she undertook a social science degree at the Open University just before the turn of the millennium.

Having lived, worked as a nurse and raised children in Germany, Ms Nicholson said she was opposed to Brexit and the ending of freedom of movement that it will bring.

She joined the Lib Dems – which is campaigning against Brexit – the day after the referendum result was announced.

“I have been a very fortunate to have the opportunity to live and work abroad, to travel abroad, to have the freedom of movement,” said Ms Nicholson, who is chair of the Royal College of Nursing’s General Practice Nurse Forum steering committee.

“I’m not by any means saying the European Union is perfect and there are probably a lot of changes that need to happen. But for me, I had those opportunities. Why would I not want those opportunities for my family?”

If elected, Ms Nicholson said she wanted to use her position in parliament to challenge the outdated image of nursing and raise the profile of general practice nursing.

“From a primary care perspective specifically, I would like to see the profile of general practice nursing higher up,” she told Nursing Times.

Giving weight to the RCN’s campaign for safe staffing legislation and pushing for solutions to severe nurse shortages were also cited as priorities for Ms Nicholson in terms of nursing policy.

“Whether you are political with a small p or a big p, I think there’s a place for it”

Ellen Nicholson 

Ms Nicholson said she also wanted to be a role model to young nurses to show them where the profession could take them.

While recognising that not all nurses were interested in the goings-on of Whitehall, she said there appeared to be more political awareness among the nursing profession.

“I think it’s right as well because nursing is influenced by politics. It’s influenced by the decisions in the department of health and government, and whether you are political with a small p or a big p, I think there’s a place for it,” she said.

Asked what nursing skills she believed were transferable to politics, Ms Nicholson said “pretty much all of them”.

“You’ve got your communication skills, you’ve got your management skills, you’ve got your leadership skills,” she added.

Just like in nursing, politics was about being an advocate for people, noted Ms Nicholson.

She said “very few” people believed the next general election would take until May 2022, with some predicting one will be called as early as the autumn.

All political parties were on a “readiness footing” to launch their election campaigns at any moment, she highlighted. 

Prime minister Boris Johnson’s working majority was reduced to one after the Liberal Democrats won the Brecon and Radnorshire byelection at the start of this month.

Ms Nicholson said another by-election for the Sheffield Hallam seat expected to take place in October this year would be “one to watch”.