Ainna Fawcett-Henesy

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Ainna Fawcett-Henesy though born in Ireland came to Coventry in England to train as a nurse, a decision she never regretted. An early experience of working alongside a senior health visitor was crucial, for she then determined on a career in the community. She saw how important and fulfilling it could be, although it was a choice that lacked the glamour of hospital specialties. However she had energy, a sense of humour, humility and a willingness to learn, the wisdom and irreverence of ‘how things are done’ to make her own way up the hierarchy, but also to improve the importance of nursing in the community, and its status and recognition at the highest levels, nationally and internationally. Never one to seek self-publicity, her work has been recognised by nurse leaders and politicians internationally.

In her own career she became in succession the primary care adviser to the Royal College of Nursing, the Chief Nurse/Director of Quality at Ealing Health Authority, and the Regional Director of Nursing and Director of Quality at the South East Thames Regional Health Authority. She was seconded to the Department of Health which included working part-time on London’s health care reforms. She then moved to the World Health Organisation subsequently becoming the Regional Adviser on Nursing and Midwifery for Europe. Whilst at WHO she also played a key role in the Organisations work on health system reform. Her energy, competence and enthusiasm made her many friends not only in nursing but in management and among doctors, but also inevitably some enemies among nursing colleagues. She had no easy ride.

More important than the posts she held were the contributions she made to her discipline, which have had a lasting impact. By 1986 she had developed the concepts of nurse prescribing and quality circles. She had realised the contribution that nurses practitioners could make to primary care developing a training programme whilst at the RCN. Family doctors were not her natural allies, but she got them on her side. There are penalties that come with being a pioneer, but she put her ideas into practice in Ealing and South East Thames. Her concepts were submitted through the RCN to the Cumberlege Review and influenced the final Report in 1987.

She spent ten years in Copenhagen with the WHO where her ability to develop effective relationships helped the introduction of the principles that she cherished, and resulted in a European Strategy for Nursing and Midwifery Education as well as a research initiative on the potential of a role for family health nurses. She was responsible for organising the first ever WHO European Ministerial conference on Nursing. A serious physical illness then intervened and made early retirement essential. She made a good recovery and the many honours and awards that she received are evidence of the wide respect in which she is held. Most important of all, however, is the extent to which her younger colleagues have found her an inspiration.

During 2015/6 she undertook a degree at the University of Limerick under Professor Joseph O'Connor in Creative Writing, achieving her Masters. Subsequently, in 2018, on the 70th anniversary of the NHS, the Nursing Standard named her as among the 70 most influential nurses who had helped to shape the NHS. (1)

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(1) Nursing Standard. 70 Years of the NHS. A celebration of 70 influential nurses and midwives from 1948-2018. July 2018. nursingstandard.com


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