Thursday, 12 January 2012

What do nurses really need?

As usual, there have been several stories in the British press about nursing standards in our NHS hospitals. David Cameron announced that nurses will be told to do regular ward rounds, suggesting that they should check on their patients hourly to ensure high quality care.
In another report, the NHS future forum stated that nursing training has become ‘too academic’ while at the same time reporting that some nurses lacked basic skills, have a poor grasp of maths and do not understand the values of the health service. The report goes on to say that ‘selection in nursing …. has moved away from selecting students on their ability, capacity for compassion and caring and desire to work in nursing’

None of this will come as a shock to anyone associated with the NHS. But what is strange is how government, watchdogs and ‘health leaders’ seem to be going about addressing the issue.

I find it a little odd that the Prime Minister should get bogged down in such detail as a ward round. In fact – I suspect he isn’t even clear on what a ward round is.

I have written before about the farce that is a ward round in many facilities - a hotchpotch of ‘health workers’ with neither badge nor recognisable status, standing at the end of a poor patient’s bed, discussing them as though they don’t exist and even getting their name wrong.

Likewise the NHS Future Forum suggesting that nurses should be assessed for their capacity for compassion. How do you measure that?

Nursing is a profession. It is a profession that requires intelligence, physical ability, emotional strength and a genuine interest in the health and wellbeing of the people in their care. Nurses’ pay in the NHS really isn’t that bad. Truly. It’s not. But it’s not an easy job, particularly in the current NHS environment of limited resources, proposed cuts and most of all, uncertainty. It's a job that can be physically and emotionally draining and I can completely sympathise with nurses who bemoan their lot. It must be very tough right now.

So what do nurses need? I had a very interesting conversation with a senior nursing leader who has worked in the public, private and community care sector and I absolutely agree with her. She reckons that what nurses need most of all is support and leadership.

It’s not for the PM to decide how often a nurse should check a patient. It should be down to a ward sister, matron or whatever you wish to call the leader of the unit. That leader should nurture a culture of care and compassion, of good customer service and excellent medical practice. That leader should discipline the work shy, weed out the bullies and encourage those who need and want to improve. But most of all, the leader in charge of the ward should take personal responsibility to nurture the nurses and carers. Like a good parent, they should be firm but fair, lead by example with resilience and treat everyone with kindness and professionalism.

Come to think of it – that’s what patients need too….


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