While there can be few groups within the NHS looking forward to the Francis report into Mid Staffordshire Trust, the nursing profession appears to have most to fear. Large swathes of the general media already seem to assume that the largest proportion of blame rests with nurses.
They will almost certainly report numerous distressing stories of neglect and appalling practice among nurses at the hospital. They will also doubtless demand major changes to nurse education, question once more the move to degree-only entry, and accuse nurses of becoming at best box-ticking robots and at worst cruel sadists who cannot be bothered to cross a ward to help a patient in distress.
There is, of course, no excuse for what happened in Stafford, and it is crucial that lessons are learned so it can never be repeated. And yes, some nurses are individually culpable. But that is far from the whole story – other individuals and professions played their part in these tragic events, so why is nursing being singled out for such vilification? Why is there an assumption that nursing is broken and that all the failings can be laid at its door?
The Daily Telegraph has been particularly keen to accuse the profession, yet its sister paper the Sunday Telegraph reported that complaints had been received about 41 doctors and ‘at least’ 29 nurses at the trust. Given the ratio of doctors to nurses, it would be reasonable to assume that by far the greater proportion of complaints would be about nurses, yet I don’t hear doctors being attacked so vociferously.
Nursing cannot be allowed to carry the can for all the wrongs at Mid Staffordshire. Yes, it must hold up its hands and accept its share of the blame, but other professions must do the same. Nurses cannot fail so spectacularly in a vacuum – it takes an entire hospital and numerous failures in regulatory systems to allow up to 1,200 people to die unnecessarily.
If the NHS is to learn from Mid Staffordshire, the Francis report must be considered in an even-handed manner with a willingness to make changes wherever they are needed rather than focusing on one profession.
And the government must be willing to take a constructive approach to addressing any resource issues that this raises. Anything less is unfair to the nursing profession and, more importantly, an insult to the people who died needlessly and the families they left behind.