Ruth Thompson, Associate Director of Nursing & Midwifery at Healthcare Improvement Scotland, started her nursing career in coronary care, and today celebrates International Nurses Day.

I started my nursing career in Glasgow, training at the Victoria Infirmary. I loved my training, so many of the registered staff were generous of their time and invested in the development of the next generation of nurses, something I try to replicate and support. During my training my biggest struggle was sewing-up my starched lace cap!

As a registered nurse I worked within Coronary Care, where I developed my love of cardiac medicine, Acute and General Medicine, starting as a staff nurse progressing to senior charge nurse, directorate senior nurse manager and then to chief nurse of both Hairmyres Hospital and Monklands Hospital in Lanarkshire.

I then joined Scottish Government as a professional advisor working with the Scottish Executive Nurse Directors to maximise the impact of robust workforce planning on patient safety and quality of care, and to reduce the reliance on supplementary staffing. I joined Healthcare Improvement Scotland in 2019, transitioning the Healthcare Staffing Programme from Scottish Government, before successfully securing the Associate Director of Nursing and Midwifery post.


During the pandemic I supported several NHS boards. Every day I witnessed nurses going above and beyond, working in new roles, environments, delaying their retirement plans or indeed coming out of retirement to support colleagues and services. All done with a can-do attitude, humour and humility. I also required ED treatment myself, the staff were amazing, kind and caring. Whilst not a surprise to me, I was overwhelmed.

I have been truly blessed to work with many inspirational nurses, who work tirelessly to enhance their own skills and knowledge to improve the care, experience and outcomes for patients.

I don’t think I could have made a better career choice, my experiences whether they made me laugh or cry have been wonderful learning opportunities and shared with fabulous colleagues of many professions.


For me, nurses are in a unique position to provide the continuum of care across the age spectrum, supporting people to manage their own health and providing that additional support when people are unable to meet their own needs. As a nurse you see people, both patients and their families, at their most vulnerable and the trust placed in you is humbling.

I believe the greatest improvements are those challenges identified and owned by the team; they know their clinical area, the ideas for improvement and then prioritise their improvement programme. Undertaking leadership walk-rounds or “back to the floor days” was a great opportunity for teams to share their successes using the improvement boards and safety crosses and for me to see them in action. Their pride in the improvements made to patient safety and care was palpable.

As a chief nurse, embracing the work of the Scottish Patient Safety Programme (SPSP) we worked tirelessly to move from the traditional ‘bed meeting’ to the hospital safety huddle. Changing the focus from an ED wait for a bed to whole site responsibility for a patient safety issue, using data to understand the blockages in the system and testing new ways of working. This significantly improved the ED quality standard performance and reduced the number of lengthy waits for patients


The SPSP programme was the foundation stone to improving patient safety and care, this was then strengthened by the Excellence in Care programme which specifically identified the impact of nursing care. None of the quality improvement work can be delivered without having the right number of staff with the right skills at the right time and this is where our Healthcare Staffing Programme supports the delivery of safe, effective care.

Nurses are educated, knowledgeable and skilled practitioners, regulated by the NMC.

I hope that nursing continues to balance the art and the science, both are equally important to patients and their families. I hope to see more nurse-led services. The enhanced and advanced skills of nurses allows patients to be assessed, treated and discharged by nurses, allowing professional relationships to flourish.

Ruth Thompson is Associate Director of Nursing & Midwifery at Healthcare Improvement Scotland.

More information:

The NMAHP directorate (Nurses, Midwives and AHPs) provides professional support and leadership, stimulating improvement in care and collaboration with multidisciplinary teams in HIS and the wider health and care system.

Visit our website for more information.