Wednesday, May 12, 1999 Published at 11:02 GMT 12:02 UK
Children urged to consider nursing career
The government is trying to increase nurse recruitment
A mass campaign to encourage children to consider a career in nursing is being launched as part of International Nurses Day.
More than 2,000 nurses, midwives and health visitors will visit thousands of schools in England to talk about how nursing has changed since the days of Florence Nightingale.
The aim is to alter children's perceptions of the caring profession at a time when hospitals up and down the country are facing big staff shortages.
Nurses Day - 12 May - marks the birthday of the lady with the lamp, who is viewed as the founder of modern nursing.
The government says research shows that children as young as 10 have already got firm ideas of the kind of career they want to take up.
It also shows that many have an old-fashioned view of nursing.
To mark the day, health minister Baroness Hayman, schools minister Charles Clarke and BBC Children's TV presenter Kirsten O'Brien visited the Servite RC School in west London to meet nurses and children.
Lady Hayman said: "Nurses are highly trained, skilled professionals doing a valuable and challenging job.
"Every day they use sophisticated information technology and state of the art specialist equipment as well as providing tender loving care.
Schools taking part in the initiative are being given Department of Health education packs which show how information on nursing can be incorporated into the National Curriculum.
The government has launched a range of options for encouraging more people into nursing.
Following this year's pay rise for nurses, it spent £5m on recruitment adverts in the media which drew a big response.
It is also trying to introduce new, more flexible working patterns in the NHS to encourage nurses with families back into the profession.
Other schemes for increasing recruitment and retention include measures to reduce violent attacks against NHS staff and for broadening the scope of the job.
The Royal College of Nursing estimates that there are 13,000 nursing vacancies in the NHS.
Its general secretary Christine Hancock said: "While we still have much to tackle in terms of pay and conditions, nursing is at a very exciting point.
"Nurses are at the heart of the new NHS quality agenda - from running the rapidly expanding NHS Direct telephone consultation line to helping shape local health services as members of primary care teams."
A number of other events have been lined up for Nurses Day.
Prince Charles is hosting a reception at Highgrove for 200 nurses from around the country.
And Virgin Radio boss Chris Evans has organised a special day for 50 nurses.
They were allowed to watch his morning radio show and given presents and champagne.
They were also invited to go on a fairground ride.
TV presenters Gail Porter and Anthea Turner joined Mr Evans.