The vital importance of family nursing and midwifery in the UK and Ireland

Authors: Professor Veronica Swallow @SwallowVeronica, Professor Alison Metcalfe @MetcalfeAlison & Professor Veronica Lambert @vLambertDCU @IFNA_UKI

Nurses and midwives (nurses) play a major role in supporting people across the life-course. Within multi-disciplinary teams nurses support many patients/clients remotely, but patients/clients rely predominantly on family members for home-based support with self-management. Family nursing provides nursing care to the whole family and to individual family members with attention to relationships among members. When one person in a family has health support needs this can bring family role-changes that cause stress to the family unit, while individual family members may struggle to adapt to the altered circumstances. Therefore, the important part that families play in healthcare cannot be underestimated. We are seeing one extreme example of the importance of families during the COVID 19 pandemic. Families are supporting and caring for one another, in particular their vulnerable members.  At the same time, they are seeking reliable health information and care.  As nurses, we are ideally positioned to support families through developing trusting relationships across the family, and respecting individuals and their contributions to the health and wellbeing of the patient and the family as a whole. However, unlike countries such as Sweden, Denmark, Japan and parts of the USA, there is little emphasis in the UK & Ireland (UK&I) on nursing care of the whole family; instead the focus lies with caring for individuals and the needs of family members are only considered insofar as they form part of the patient’s support network. Furthermore, international models of family-nursing do not necessarily address particular challenges facing UK and Irish nurses where health-service systems are strikingly dissimilar to those in other countries. Families and family-focused nursing are critical to bringing innovative solutions to ongoing healthcare reforms to promote health, provide person- and family-responsive healthcare, deliver high quality evidence-based services and get the best value from health system resources.

It is timely, therefore, to develop strategies to actively promote and support family nursing within the UK&I. To this end the UK & Ireland International Family Nursing Association (IFNA) Chapter (The first IFNA Chapter globally) was established to:

  • Foster and promote family-focused nursing in all fields of nursing in the UK&I
  • Act as a unifying force and voice for family-focused nursing in all fields of nursing
  • Enable UK&I nurses to work in partnership with families, and recognise the family unit as a legitimate recipient of nursing care.
  • Support and promote the development of further IFNA Chapters in other countries

The UK&I Chapter fulfils the mission of the International Family Nursing Association (nurses transforming health for families worldwide) at local level (IFNA has 450 members from 30+ countries).

The Chapter Executive Group secured £29,000 from: the UK White-Rose University Consortium, the Burdett Trust for Nursing and Health Education England (HEE) that enabled the following activities:

  1. Delivering a workshop on family nursing involving leading international family nursing experts
  2. Establishing a patient and public involvement group to ensure our work is family-relevant
  3. Conducting a systematic review of family-focussed care interventions to inform future work1
  4. Surveying UK&I nurses’ attitudes towards family nursing using the widely validated FINC-NA questionnaire2
  5. Hosting a Roundtable Event in 2020 bringing together UK&I nursing leaders including Professor Mark Radford, Chief Nurse, HEE; Alison Morton, Director of Policy and Quality, Institute of Health Visiting; Dr Crystal Oldman, Chief Executive of The Queen’s Nursing Institute; Yvonne Coghill, CBE FRCN Deputy President Royal College of Nursing; and Professor Jacqueline Dunkley-Bent, Chief Midwifery Officer, NHS England. The keynote was delivered by Professor Marcia van Riper, a founding IFNA member from the University of North Carolina, USA.
  6. Developing a UK&I Chapter web-site being launched summer 2020 to report outcomes of these activities and enhance the visibility of family-nursing in UK&I by inviting all nurses to join the Chapter
  7. The Chapter secured the bid to bring the IFNA conference to Dublin, Ireland in 2021 and are seeking sponsorship for the conference and to raise the profile of family nursing across the life course in UK&I


1.In revision with Journal of Advanced Nursing

2 Benzein, E., et. al. Families’ Importance in Nursing Care. Journal of Family Nursing. 2008, 14(1), pp.97-117.

Authors: Professor Veronica Swallow, Professor Alison Metcalfe & Professor Veronica Lambert (Chapter co-leads). March 2020

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