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EDITOR’S COMMENT

'Don’t allow nursing to surrender its voice'

Last week started with an interesting three days - Monday heralded in a day of judging for the Nursing Times Awards, followed by a Tuesday visit to two fabulous hospitals - Southmeads and University Hospitals Bristol - with RCN chief executive and general secretary Peter Carter. And midweek, I was in Manchester at an NHS Employers event discussing nurse engagement.

It may sound a varied week, but in fact all of it had one common theme - every nurse I met showed a basic human need to feel special, to feel like they make a difference and to feel valued.

Nurses enter our awards to showcase how they have made a difference and to inspire others to follow suit. But make no mistake, they want to win for their colleagues, peers and organisations. They want to feel respected for their contribution.

And in Bristol, an acknowledgement from Mr Carter about the quality of their work made the world of difference to the students and registered nurses he met while he walked the wards.

At the NHS Employers event, nurses revealed a sense of feeling like the “martyrs” in their organisations - the ones who are last to find out information, first to have their training days taken away and always on hand to make sure that a new initiative works without unduly affecting the patients’ experience and safety.

They debated whether this is nurses’ perception or reality. Are nurses done to or could they change things and take control?

Certainly Mr Carter told the Bristol nurses not to underestimate the enormous power they have. He urged them to write to their MPs (referring to their concerns about the South West “pay cartel”), speak up when things are wrong in their organisations and make their case for service improvement and patient safety.

Courage, nurses are told, is what they need. But nurses deny they have any power to do this or that they will be listened to if they do.

Floods of letters from their constituents about an issue can make MPs a little twitchy. Going to see your MP to voice your concerns makes them twitchier still. But does it ever change policy?

Judging by the actions of the masses of nurses - they don’t believe so. The RCN petition to call a halt to the proposed NMC fee rise has attracted only 85,720 signatures, its ballot on whether to take industrial action about the pension cuts got a 16% response.

It seems years of being “done to” has eroded nurses’ sense of self-worth and so they now believe they will never be listened to. But if nurses have stopped speaking up for nursing, who is there left to do it?

jenni.middleton@emap.com. Follow me on Twitter @nursingtimesed

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Readers' comments (9)

  • Like I have said before, the RCN completely missed the boat re. pensions - they were several months behind the other unions and the national strike and I believe that is why not many nurses voted to strike later on. We would have had much more influence striking with the masses - and adding to the numbers of that huge strike - rather than attempting a smaller one a few months later when the public and government had moved on with their interest.
    I don't think the RCN actually act in a strong way for our best interests. How can we make our voices heard through that route if they are not going to stand up for us when we need them to, as nurses and as members of the multidisciplinary NHS team?

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  • Yes But

    'At the NHS Employers event, nurses revealed a sense of feeling like the “martyrs” in their organisations - the ones who are last to find out information, first to have their training days taken away and always on hand to make sure that a new initiative works without unduly affecting the patients’ experience and safety.

    They debated whether this is nurses’ perception or reality. Are nurses done to or could they change things and take control?

    .......

    It seems years of being “done to” has eroded nurses’ sense of self-worth and so they now believe they will never be listened to. But if nurses have stopped speaking up for nursing, who is there left to do it?'


    That is the 'paradox' here - if nurses stop speaking 'truth to authority', then nurses will not be listened to, because there isn't anything to hear.

    But there are horror stories about what happened to some nurses when they spoke up with awkward truths (ditto for some doctors).

    It depends on the point being made - but sometimes, you need to be aiming your complaint right to the top, not just slightly up the chain.

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  • tinkerbell


    yes cut out the middle man, (NHS management), bombard your MP with emails.

    Twitter David Cameron.

    Get vocal.

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  • Most nurses are scared of losing their jobs or of having to leave their jobs should they choose to complain. Everyone knows that nurses, in common with other NHS personnel, are expected to toe the line and just do what they are told. If someone dares to speak out or complain on the whole they are bullied into silence. Fact. Based on numerous posts on this very site.

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  • To be honest, the most-deep seated problem beyond persecution or being bullied for complaining or losing your job is that NHS Trust Management do not have any respect whatsoever for nurses. The South-West Pay Cartel have clearly shown they don't respect their nurses as has every single Trust in this country that has used nurses as a byword for saving money. As long as Trust bosses do not respect nurses, they won't listen to them. And when nurses finally have their voice heard, they are bullied into silence, or just ignored; whistle blowers become pariahs; it goes on.

    How can nurses be expected to keep their voice when no-one listens: The Unions don't do enough until it's too late, hospital bosses ignore, the governing body just cares about itself and nobody else. So, the only voice is to people outside the Health Service and, really, how effective is that in reality? Honestly, I have almost given up now.....as much as I love and care for my patients and I will stand up for them with everything I have, I am just not sure I want to continue in a profession where we are given no professional respect from, well, anybody really. It makes me feel like crying sometimes when I see our profession taken advantage of so much

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  • Yes But

    Anonymous | 28-Sep-2012 12:44 pm

    Indeed.

    The only solution, if the complaint is about a damaging decision made by the managers who can persecute or sack you, is to somehow separate the pursual of the issue, from the staff who raise it.

    You need some sort of 'arms length' intermediary (not a union rep -someone who is neutral and objective, with 'no axe to grind'), who cannot be intimidated by the management, and a process that goes:

    nurse raises issue with intermediate;

    intermediate raises the issue with management, who are obliged to properly explain their decisions

    You can't have this absurd situation where people are expected to complain about their boss, to their boss.

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  • Nursemorph has it right. I have never been afraid to speak out in support of patients and staff, to vote on issues and to play my part. However it takes a strong will to do this and face the consequences from above in terms of subtle and not-so subtle bullying and threats. I have seen many others moved, dismissed and harried from their jobs. The very real issue is that staff need to pay their bills and support their families, and have to weigh up the risks of speaking out in public against dismissal or even, for example, being moved from night to day duty which makes it impossible for them to work around their families. Why do you think so many people who comment here feel they have to be anonymous?

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  • michael stone

    Anonymous | 29-Sep-2012 10:59 am

    'However it takes a strong will to do this and face the consequences from above in terms of subtle and not-so subtle bullying and threats. I have seen many others moved, dismissed and harried from their jobs.'

    as pointed out by Yes But.

    'The only solution, if the complaint is about a damaging decision made by the managers who can persecute or sack you, is to somehow separate the pursual of the issue, from the staff who raise it.'

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  • nursemorph | 28-Sep-2012 2:46 pm

    Nurses lie down to everything. They don't even bother to vote in union ballots. They are great at blaming everything on everyone else. When they learn that getting off their backsides, standing together and taking some action against the variety of assaults on their profession is better than whingeing; then, and only then, will things begin to change. When I've been out on marches and demonstrations, I've seen other healthcareworkers, but very few other nurses.

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