Gail Adams is an activist for UNISON, who represent the rights of healthcare professionals at the highest level and campaign to ensure a fair deal for nurses. Having served as Head of Nursing at UNISON for 14 years, she was awarded an OBE for services to nursing and public healthcare in 2017. Bournemouth University is very proud to award Gail an Honorary Doctorate of Education.
How does receiving an Honorary Doctorate compare to receiving an OBE?
“I didn’t go to university so in many ways, this is more significant and in particular because somebody has nominated you that you don’t know so for me it feels really exciting.”
What challenges face the next generation of nurses and health care workers?
“I think every generation has a set of different and sometimes comparable challenges, and I think certainly in terms of cuts to public services, we’re seen issues with staffing levels, with pay restrain, pay cuts have had a significant impact on health workers and some are going to struggle financially especially with the removal of the NHS bursary scheme. So there are certainly anxieties I have about the future of the profession but I’m really confident with the 700 that are graduating today that although there will be real challenges there’s a bright future with them as part of it.”
“I think Brexit is already having a significant effect, I think many of our fantastic colleagues from Europe are voting with their feet and I think that there has been a massive missed opportunity. I think the government should have immediately reassured them that their right to stay is guaranteed and then use that as a positive influence to seek reciprocation for UK nationals residing in Europe. I’m pro- international and have learnt so much and love the diversity of my profession. It’s absolutely vital in providing adequate and appropriate care for people in today’s society.”
What skills do you need to be a good nurse?
“I think somebody who cares, somebody who has compassion, and somebody who has really good communication skills who is able to converse with a whole range of members of society and also has the aptitude to be able to establish a really good relationship quite quickly because a number of our patients are not within our care for very long so there is a real requirement to establish that raport that can often lead to better patient care.”
You’re on record as someone who is unafraid to speak your mind. Have you always been a fighter?
“I was suspended as a student nurse because of a medical condition so I had to fight to do my nursing and I think it instilled in me a level of resilience that’s stood me in good stead but I also think I was extremely fortunate to work for a trade union who required me to speak up. It’s an absolute key part of my job description to ask those questions and in particular to ask those awkward questions because some people in positions of authority but have a level of seriousness and anxiety that is associated with that. It’s not a very good career enhancing move to challenge to secretary of state on a national platform with regard to pay, or with regard to staffing levels. I’m not in that position so I had free license to tell him or her or any other minister for that matter if I think they’ve got it wrong. I tried to do that in a polite way but sometimes I am extremely assertive.
What advice would you give to one of our health and social science graduates looking to emulate your career?
“Throw themselves into it whole-heartedly. Not to expect anything to be handed to you – nothing’s going to be handed to you throughout your career. I’ve not been afraid to put myself out there and I’ve also not been afraid to say things. Also, trust your gut instinct, and to make sure you recognise that you have a voice and a right to be heard.”