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'Recognise and reward the moral code of nurses'


The day of industrial action certainly left nurses with a moral quandary.

Many of those we spoke to (see pages 4–5) decided to take action, but those who decided not to felt they just couldn’t because of their code of conduct. During my webchat on Wednesday I spoke to a few nurses who had declined to pick up a placard because it just didn’t feel right to “turn their backs on patients” as they put it.

One story that reached the Nursing Times office this week was of a nurse who had said she would picket “but only if the strike fell on her day off”. A genuine show of support - a protest maybe, but in terms of having an impact, such a universal approach would hardly make George Osborne run to get his calculator.

Of course nurses’ desire to stick to what they consider to be their “moral code” is admirable, entirely defensible and understandable. After all, the teachers and many other civil servants don’t run quite the same risks by standing outside their work waving banners and encouraging drivers to hoot their horns, do they? Little Sammy may not get his weekly dose of algebra on Wednesday afternoon, but it’s not quite the same as Moira not receiving thrombolysis to increase her chances of surviving her myocardial infarction.

There are fears (see page 9) that in “doing the right thing”, nurses are not making their feelings on the subject felt and their stoicism is being mistaken for acquiescence or apathy, and could be seen to back up David Cameron’s view that the strike was a “damp squib”.

So will the utter determination of nurses to do their jobs come what may put them in a vulnerable position in resolving this issue? If anything, their attitude shows how much more nursing should be valued – and rewarded appropriately.

Follow me on Twitter @nursingtimesed


Chat live with the editor and other nurses at every Wednesday at 1pm about this column.



Readers' comments (61)

  • This is such a difficult one.

    Don't get me wrong, I understand the feelings of those who felt they couldn't strike because they felt they couldn't leave their patients. As you say Jenni this moral code is admirable. However, I feel that it is this same moral code that has been subverted and become almost a 'martyr' attitude in Nurses and has been used against us. The government have relied on the fact that they can get away with whatever they like because we wouldn't do anything, would we?

    For many, myself included, it didn't though. I have a moral code, of course I do. I got into Nursing to help people, to care for them, to save lives, I don't WANT to strike, I would rather help my patients. HOWEVER, and this is an important point, I refuse to allow my moral code to be used as emotional blackmail. Does the fact that we have an essential role and our actions do affect patients care and lives automatically mean we can never stand up for ourselves? Does it mean we should automatically bend over and accept what is done to us by the government? Scrap our pensions, cut our pay when it is already barely enough to live on, make our working conditions even worse? It doesn't matter because we can't possibly do anything can we?

    We are not the only ones who have a responsibility to our patients, the government and the powers that be have a responsibility to ensure the staff and the conditions are there to care for patients too. When Nurses go on strike again, people should know it is an absolute last resort and a last straw for us, and they should start blaming the government for forcing us into this action and start calling on them to fix the situation to get us back on the wards!

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  • We are constantly being told on this forum that working conditions are bad and need improving. I always find this puzzling and would welcome it if someone explained the "poor conditions" we nurses have to put up with.
    Going to work in a clean warm building, wearing a free uniform that is laundered for free, having an occupational health department on-site and willing to see you, provided with personal protective clothing, being paid an above average wage (average nurse wage is £26,400 for a 37.5 hour week whereas average chefs wage for example is £13,600 for about 50+ hours) with a well above average annual leave entitlement and free chocolates on most shifts, does sound awful, doesn't it.

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  • Anonymous | 6-Dec-2011 12:31 pm Are you for real?

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  • Yes Mike, I am for real, are you?
    I presume from your lack of an answer that you cannot tell me what these 'poor conditions' are.
    I am also presuming from previous posts by yourself and others that you mean, not getting designated breaks and getting crap off duties and shortage of staff. As you have said yourself it is down to individual nurses to make sure they get their breaks and finish on time, it is also their responsibility to negotiate the off duties and therefore blaming others for these shortfalls is pointless. As for shortage of staff, this is debateable depending on where you work and therefore to raise staffing levels everywhere as you keep demanding is not feasable or sensible.

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  • I would like to know where nurses earn an average of £26,400 as most nurses I know do not earn that! Does Anonymous realise that nurses often do in excess of their contracted hours for free??

    I felt that all nurses should have walked on Wednesday to show the government exactly how much they need nurses in order to run the wards! Nursing is being ripped to shreds because they now want to have a voice, I am newly qualified and along with several hundred who I graduated with are unable to obtain posts because nursing is expected to pay for the bankers mess.

    Maybe that's the previous generation of nurses who are quite happy to take whatever is handed to them, but things need to change.

    My partner (who works in the private sector) pointed out that frequently missing out on meal/comfort breaks and working unpaid overtime on a regular basis would never happen with him and his colleagues and because of this management respect them more!!!!


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  • Anonymous | 6-Dec-2011 2:47 pm just read any of my previous answers because I have countered foolish claims like yours before.

    First point, that is NOT the average Nurses wage. Try £5000 less for an average band 5. Furthermore, considering what we do, the level of skill, education, qualification, accountability and responsibility we have, your stated wage should be the bare minimum starting salary! It isn't. Nurses ARE vastly underpaid. That is a fact. Constant attacks on our increments, pay levels (with pay freezes and cuts), pensions, the threatened cancelling of afc, and so on are adding further insult to injury.

    A free uniform? two tunics for five shifts as I received is not adequate, and if an employer expects a uniform they SHOULD supply it! furthermore, you show me the hospital that gives free laundry! I do not know a single one that does, and I doubt many others do either.

    I can't be bothered countering all of your foolish points, but you want to know what 'poor conditions' we put up with? Because it is obvious you are not a Nurse, I will explain them to you very slowly and clearly.

    How about unsafe and dangerous staffing levels just for starters, with far too many patients. How can 1 staff Nurse with 30, 40 or more patients to look after be considered safe? How about unchallenged job freezes and job cuts (with many newly qualified unable to find jobs) and downbanding? How about bed and ward cuts that put added pressures on wards? How about the majority of Nurses working vast amounts of unpaid overtime just to ensure paperwork is filled in to the legal standard or patients are cared for adequately, because managers refuse to get enough staff and Nurses do not want their patients to suffer? How about missed meal breaks for the same reason? How many Nurses have to put up with unhealthy and inconsiderate off duties, doing L, E, L, E, a day off then nights, etc? Yes it is down to Nurses to fight against this, that is why I argue that we need to continue striking, but Nurses of the past have been emotionally blackmailed into these conditions, and that needs to change. How about substandard or not enough equipment? You talk about PPI, I WOULD BLOODY EXPECT THAT AS A BARE MINIMUM! Clean buildings? Well, even I won't get into that one!!!!!

    I could go on for a long, long time with a dozen or more examples but I won't for the purpose of expediency. Just a fraction of the things I have already mentioned would be considered illegal in most professions or jobs, can you imagine any other job out there where the workers would put up with missing breaks or unpaid overtime simply because they had such a sense of duty that was exploited by their employers? No.

    But your foolish challenge (I mean £26,400 the average wage, please!) has bought us off topic slightly. These are just some of the reasons that Nurses need to continue to fight, strike and change their conditions, and it is about time Nurses stopped allowing their sense of duty, their moral code or whatever people want to call it, to be used against them. The emotional blackmail will no longer work.

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  • The problem is with nursing is that people don't take into account the skill, education, training, accountability and responsibility. Not to mention the continous updating of skills and jumping through hoops to keep on working.

    If you work on a checkout for example and make a mistake it might only annoy you or hold you up.If we we make a mistake at work it could kill someone.

    Probably not a good comparision I know but you get the drift.

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  • Mike, average annual salary for a nurse is £26,456 (Office for National Statistics, Nov 2010)
    Your above rant has not added anything to the discussion, you are merely repeating things that could be changed by the nurses themselves and have nothing to do with Government or higher management. Staffing levels as I said before are debateable and dependant on the area you work, many areas are under staffed but many are also well over staffed.
    Unchallenged job freezes and job cuts do happen in many, many other workplaces, redundancy is not something confined to the NHS.
    Nurses need to be better at prioritising, do the important things and leave the rest if they are short staffed, but make sure they document why so that when complaints come in the systems can be looked at properly and resources can be allocated appropriately.

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  • Bloody well said Mike, and so true of what it is like in nursing in the NHS now.

    Anonymous 12.31hrs. Wake up and smell the coffee; you haven't the first idea what it is like now.

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  • Check out this site:
    It is worth noting that the average nurses salary is virtually double the salary of someone considered to be living in poverty. That is a combined salary for a couple with 2 dependant children under age 14, £13,824.

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