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

Professor Veronica Swallow, Professor Alison Metcalfe and Professor Veronica Lambert, Chapter Co-leads, reposted from the Evidence-Based Nursing blog, published in March 2020

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. 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 and Ireland 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 and Ireland. To this end, the UK and 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 and Ireland
  • Act as a unifying force and voice for family-focused nursing in all fields of nursing
  • Enable UK and Ireland 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 and Ireland 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 work.1
  4. Surveying UK and Ireland nurses’ attitudes towards family nursing using the widely validated FINC-NA questionnaire.2
  5. Hosting a Roundtable Event in 2020 bringing together UK and Ireland 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 and Ireland Chapter website being launched summer 2020 to report outcomes of these activities and enhance the visibility of family-nursing in the UK and Ireland 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 the UK and Ireland.


1Smith, J., Ali, P., Birks, Y., Curtis, P., Fairbrother, H., Kirk, S., … Swallow, V. (2020). ‘Umbrella’ review of family-focused care interventions supporting families where a family member has a long-term condition. Journal of Advanced Nursing. doi:10.1111/jan.14367

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

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