Comment: “Worked to the limit and completely exhausted” – time to support our under-fire nurses

It's time to support our overworked and underpaid nurses, who have come under fierce attack from the right wing in recent months.


“Why’s it going wrong in hospitals?” asked John Humphrys as he grilled chief nursing officer Jane Cummings on the Today Programme yesterday morning; “we don’t get it right all the time,” replied a very defensive Cummings, who focused on putting forward a new programme which will weed out all the uncaring nurses that are littering the NHS, apparently.

But the six C’s tabled by the chief nursing officer – the “care, compassion, competence, communication, courage, and commitment” test which nurses need to be rigourously examined on was not enough for Humphries.

And “having to get rid of them if they can’t do that,” he insisted. “People seem to terribly nervous to even talk about getting rid of nurses; you also have the duty to the patients…”

Humphrys must ask himself when did nurse bashing become fashionable? And since when did a nurse’s job become separate from patient care – surely they are one in the same?

We have all read the scare stories in the local and national papers and the genuine distress of relatives over the plight of their loved ones who didn’t get the care they expected.

Far be it for us to suggest anyone, even nurses are above criticism. The ability to offer constructive, evidence based criticism within the public arena, is a hallmark of any democratic society. But criticism must be underpinned by fact, fairness and preferably some context, particularly if undertaken by journalists.

The Today Programme report on the issue contained almost no mention of the budget restrictions placed on the NHS with the government squeezing the system to breaking point.

There was certainly no mention of the unpopular health and social care bill re-organisation which Tory ministers have foisted on an already battered health service against the wishes of nearly every major professional body within the NHS.

Nurses are just uncaring automatons if the Today report as a whole was to be believed.

Keele academic Peter Crome – an emeritus professor of geriatric medicine – did agree there was a shortage of nurses but urged without any sense of context nurses should play a “more caring role” and not be so “task orientated”. They need to be “making sure vulnerable people get enough to get food,” he told the BBC, adding that was what most relatives of patients complained to him about.

First of all completing a task is by definition an act of care, in the care profession; secondly, do all of these relatives put errors made by nurses down to them not giving a damn about patients?; and even if they did believe it was because nurses don’t care, how do they know? How is care measured?

Recently I was in hospital visiting my Dad. He is 77 with chronic health problems. He is a former industrial worker from a bygone era, destroyed by Thatcher. He hates being in hospital. But from his bed he observed the nurses on his ward. They were from every nationality, had different personalities and had different ways of speaking to him. Some smiled and waved, some just got their head down and did the job.

He did complain to me once at the food being small portions (which was corrected without prompting the next day). But at no point did he say: “John, these nurses don’t care about me.”

He just said:

“These people are stretched. You can see they are worked to the limit and are completely exhausted.”

These observations match mine both as a former health reporter engaging with staff across the NHS and as someone who has several friends who are nurses. They work across varying parts of the NHS, some in the community, some on the wards, both emergency and in mental health departments.

All of them put the current problems down to cuts.

They acknowledge they “don’t always get things right”, but asking them to participate in some tick box exercise to prove they are “caring and compassionate” will be a professional smack in the face to an already highly pressured job.

As nurse and Unison NEC member Eleanor Smith put it:

“The health service alone is taking a hit of £2 billion worth of cuts and is being plunged into turmoil by more unwelcome reorganisation. Inevitably if staff are put under too much pressure signs will begin to show.

“To ensure our health service provides high standards of care we need investment in supporting our health workers so they can be provide the kind of care they came into job to deliver and not tie their hands behind their backs.”

Dr Peter Carter, RCN chief executive and general secretary, agrees:

“Nursing staff face increasing pressure with the nation’s health care needs becoming more numerous and complex, and making fewer staff and resources available is having a large impact on patient care.”

Both their points are backed up by the Nuffield Trust’s findings the NHS could face a £54bn funding gap in 2021/22 if it fails to meet its efficiency targets, set by a government openly committed to austerity and privatisation of the service.

Put simply if you don’t give the woodcutter a sharp enough axe they can’t chop down the tree.

Nurses, however committed they are, cannot care for patients if they don’t have the resources and support to do the job. The public needs to get behind their NHS and its nurses; it’s time to cut nurses some slack and end the sell off of our NHS.

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2 Responses to “Comment: “Worked to the limit and completely exhausted” – time to support our under-fire nurses”

  1. norman

    these are the nurses that allow people to starve or die of dehydration whilst lying in their won mess? some angels!

  2. Newsbot9

    When you cut the staffing numbers so there are not enough to handle the tasks, hat do you expect? Stop whining about the intended results of your own policies.

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