I was interested to read in the issue of The Times dated Thursday 21st April 2011 a letter from Frances Garrood, entitled “Too Posh to Wash” offering a perspective of the problems besetting nursing and the nursing profession at the present time from one who qualified when health care delivery and care in hospital were very different from what they are now. Being of an equivalent generation I can certainly see where she is coming from. In today’s issue of the same publication there are some interesting, if predictable, responses – some generally supportive of her opinion, others not.
Certainly, today’s nurse is a very different professional to the one she or he once was. Whether she is a “better” or “worse” nurse really depends on your expectations and understanding of just what it is that a nurse does. It may be that the changes have come about as medicine and surgery have become vastly more technical – more science than art. Procedures that are not judged to be “evidence based” are frowned upon and have very largely been displaced. Measurable outcomes are favoured over those, such as simple kindness and courtesy, which are not readily amenable to quantifying on this scale or that. Results pertaining to populations are judged more important than those in individuals.
I would agree with Frances Garrood that past striving towards an all graduate profession is not really what matters. Indeed, it is not so very long since it was perfectly legal to practise as a doctor without having a university degree. My understanding is that there were two routes enabling aspiring medical practitioners to do so. One was through obtaining the Licentiate in Medicine and Surgery of the Society of Apothecaries (LMSSA) and the other through obtaining membership of the Royal College of Surgeons and a Licentiate of the Royal College of Physicians (MRCS LRCP) and several of my peers at medical school in the 1960 qualified as doctors in exactly that way. Only last year I met a general practitioner whom I judged to be perfectly sound in his work whose only medical qualification was with the Society of Apothecaries.
The fact that nurses today are more health technicians than people whose first priority was in promoting the comfort, cleanliness and dignity of bedridden patients might not necessarily be a bad thing. What is bad is the lack of compassion, respect and basic good manners that is displayed in all areas of the National Health Service today. Most of what goes on is, of course, exemplary. But I would agree entirely with Ms Garrood on one premise: like her, I have never met anyone who doesn’t have a horror story of a stay in hospital. The respondent in today’s Times who informs her that “now she has met one” is either deaf or severely blinkered. Or otherwise motivated into making such a very surprising statement.