Tuesday, 26 March 2013

Nurses to be made to go 'Back to Basics'

The latest vote catcher is out: nurses to work as care assistants for a year during their training in order to get them familiar with washing patients, not allowing them to starve, and learn the basics of compassion. Those more credulous among the voting public will lap up David Cameron’s latest offer no doubt. I can’t think that nurses as a whole will be particularly thrilled and by it and would predict that UNISON will ensure that the initiative will not survive to see the light of day.

While the public as a whole would like to see nurses cower once more under the thumbs of Matron and her band of Ward Sisters, the reality is that the nursing profession today just has to be what they have become: competent technicians able to use computers, take critical measurements and operate complex machinery. Far better, surely, to give the Health Care Assistants some basic relevant training so that they can at least spot problems among their patients when they occur, and give a bed bath without injuring either themselves or their charges. You don’t need a third level education (which nursing always was) to make a bed, mop a floor and keep a frail person clean.

And on the matter of compassion – sorry, it cannot be ‘taught’. It is in the nature of some people to be ‘compassionate’. Others develop it through experience. A very few don’t have it at all. But for myself, were I seriously ill in hospital I would sooner be treated by a competent technician who was rather lacking in compassion than by an airy-fairy idealist who couldn’t read a thermometer. It’s not the end of the world to be short on the attribute of compassion. The genuine medical sadist of course may exist, but I have never come across one. If one is out there, then God keep me from her or his hands.


  1. I agree that compassion can't be taught, but wouldn't dismiss it as easily as you seem to! I have come across nurses who lack it, and am more afraid of them than the kind who can't read a thermometer (though the compassion and the ability would be nice!). I still think we should at least bring back the SENs, who combined both.

  2. I too would like to see the return of the SEN....but as it seems more important to pay managers and consultants from NHS funds I don't feel that this is likely to happen, nor do I think it likely that your sensible suggestion to upgrade training of Health Care Assistants will occur. Nurses don't like their 'prerogatives' being threatened.

    When my husband was hospitalised in France (frequently) the lack of human interest on the part of the nurses - with the honourable exception of the intensive care staff - was palpable. Nothing to do with language, all patients received the same lack of concern.
    They were certainly highly trained technicians....but their lack of interest in their patients led to them overlooking signs and changes that were important in deciding on treatment.