Comment | Nurses not 'failing the vulnerable'

As a second year student nurse I was disappointed at the article ‘Cruel nurses are failing the vulnerable.’ 18 months into my degree I have had the privilege of caring for many patients both in hospital and in their own homes. I have been required to measure the vital signs of a patient going into septic shock, provide reassurance to a terrified lady with dementia and care for an elderly man in the last few minutes of his life. The above examples are situations that both I and my peers experience on a daily basis, alongside attending lectures, writing essays, and revising for exams.

One of the main roles of a nursing student is to provide this so called ‘basic’ care; assisting patients to wash, dress, and go to the toilet. Often overlooked as ‘dirty work’ these fundamental tasks are an invaluable way of assessing a patient and more importantly an opportunity to build trust and get to know them. Illness can be very frightening, and as nurses we are there to help our patients, giving them a voice when they are unable to speak. By implying that degree level nursing education is merely a way of ‘helping take pressure off of doctors’ is an insult to me, my peers and my nursing lecturers.

We are not trying to be mini doctors. Our jobs are both incredibly important, but they are also undeniably different. Nurses look after patients holistically; assessing and implementing strategies to help them manage their health conditions both at home and in the hospital and ensure the safe administration of medication among other things. Many nurses also diagnose, prescribe, and carry out research. Degree level nursing encourages analytical thinking so we can understand the rationale behind the care and treatment we provide, it is not an excuse for us to no longer provide this care. The article mentioned that there is a lack of compassion and care in nursing; that many nurses feel that they are superior to ‘lowly’ tasks such as cleaning up vomit. It implied that this is the main problem for poor standards of care within the NHS. However, the Francis Enquiry into the failings at the Mid Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust found that poor organisational culture, unsafe staffing levels and low staff morale were among some of the main factors influencing poor care. Imagine being the only qualified nurse on a ward with 28 beds and two deteriorating patients; it would be impossible to try and provide holistic care to every patient. However, this is a situation in which many nurses experience time after time.

It will always be difficult to produce a thorough discussion of the NHS failings in just 500 words; however it is important to provide a balanced argument before branding us all as ‘cruel.’ The RCN Dignity in Care initiative, the NHS Caremaker scheme and Speak out Safely are all campaigns led by nurses in an attempt to eradicate unacceptable standards of care and show that not all nurses should be tarred with the same brush. The article highlighted examples of incredibly poor patient care, but forgot to mention the many inspiring nurses and nursing students who work tirelessly 24/7 to provide compassionate care to all of their patients.

Rebecca Billington

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