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Nurses have been criticised in the press in the last week for a lack of compassion and there have been many articles detailing scandal of appalling care. Some newspapers bemoaned the fact that nursing has become a degree course complaining that nurses felt they were now too educated and important to do the menial tasks necessary to care for patients. Last Wednesday the Chief Nursing Officer for England called for;

a renewed emphasis on compassion, competence and commitment within the profession’.

She wants new ways of measuring patient feedback, and to get Trusts to review their culture of care and staffing levels.

I feel that nurses do a great job generally. Their job has got much harder over the years with increased paper work, ‘risk assessments’ and increased patient turn over.

Not long ago patients being admitted for a gall bladder removal operation would stay in hospital for five days; nowadays they may come in the morning, have their operation and leave that evening. There is little time for nurses and doctors to get to know patients and forge a relationship and understanding with them. Patients in hospital understandably feel vulnerable and scared. Not knowing the staff on the ward makes them feel ‘like a cog in a large wheel – not a person.’ In my own profession General Practice we have gone from having Personal Lists – where a patient would be registered with only one doctor and normally see only that doctor to a much more impersonal system. Yet we know that the doctor/nurse -patient relationship is valued by patients.

People often assume that any one in a nurse’s uniform is a fully qualified nurse. This reasonable assumption is actually wrong. The majority are auxiliary nurses who don’t have a nurses training and are poorly paid. There is often only one trained nurse on a ward!

A major problem, particularly in hospitals which are now run by management trained accountants is the focus on getting the job and patient turnover at as little cost as possible. This has led to nurses doing the jobs doctors did and auxiliaries taking over roles of nurses – to do the work as cheaply as possible. The Mid Stafford inquiry which looked into appalling standards of care and a likely excess of about 400 deaths criticised and blamed  culture of ‘target chasing’ . Often the cheapest way to get the job done is not the best way. In such a culture – things that are hard to count, such as kindness, start not to count!