I know from one or two responses I have had in the past, and from reactions to former blogger Dr Crippen, that any criticism of our nursing colleagues is likely to generate a hostile response. In particular, questioning the wisdom and value of the nursing degree gets one the cyber equivalent of a poke in the eye.
But what the fuck is happening to nursing? And why? The media are awash with stories at the moment about the appallingly low standards of nursing care being given to our patients, particularly the elderly.
These failings have been highlighted by the Care Quality Commission who have criticised nursing care, using the damning phrase, “a failure to attend to the most basic requirements of care” In one Trust they found doctors prescribing water to ensure patients had enough to drink. When you read this catalogue of failings in the Independent article it is clear that these are not isolated incidents.
It is easy to suggest that perhaps the media are blowing the problem out of proportion, but the stories are confirmed by our own experiences. I recently heard from a colleague who, during a ward round, came across an elderly blind patient whose breakfast had been placed down out of her reach. He was so appalled he interrupted the round and sat down to feed her himself. The nurses seemed to him unmoved.
There is no doubt in my mind that there is a profound difference in attitude between nurses who qualified recently, and those who qualified 20 years ago or more. The caring ethos seems to be fast disappearing. I have no evidence that the introduction of the nursing degree is in any way responsible, but it certainly has not led to improvements. The public are in no doubt however. To quote one unhappy relative “Because nurses are educated to degree level, they are contemptuous of low-level care. They think it’s beneath them.”
There is no doubt that reduction in nurse staffing levels, as happened in Stafford, is in part responsible for reductions in levels of care. But there is also a marked change in the attitude and ethos of our nursing colleagues that is frequently remarked upon, particularly by older nurses themselves, who are often scathing of their younger colleagues degrees.
Perhaps it is time to think again about how our nurses are trained.