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Brian Belle-Fortune: ‘The profession is being denied some good nurses’

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You may be shocked to hear I have been feeling slightly nostalgic for the days of the state enrolled nurse. No, I haven’t lost my mind. But I am acutely aware many nursing students fail to complete their training at a huge cost to the health service.

The reasons are many – the loss to the NHS in terms of finance and human resources is great.
Since nurse training has become more academic, we’ve lost people who would have made good state enrolled nurses.

I feel strongly that nursing is not purely academic. And, in our rush to embrace academia, we may have lost the knowledge that many nursing skills can be performed without the aid of a diploma or degree.

Because there is no second-level nursing qualification, students who don’t make the grade leave with nothing but shattered dreams and the option of becoming healthcare assistants.

A close friend left her training after finding the demands of her diploma course too challenging for her dyslexia. If ever I’d met someone who would have made a good nurse, it was my mate Curly Sue.

Practical and level-headed, she’s back working as an HCA in care homes, her desire to become a nurse unfulfilled. Yet she was the only one to notice a collapsed resident and start resuscitation while the qualified staff were away from the residents on a fag break.

No one wants to return to the bad old days of SRNs versus SENs in their entirety, with all their inherent faults that bred much resentment. One criticism of those times was its attendant bias. In 1960s Britain, minority ethnic groups and plain old working class applicants were more likely to be steered towards SEN training.

Many SENs were to prove that, given time to gain experience, they could convert to becoming state registered or registered general nurses, equal to their colleagues.

I’ll never forget Lyn, the nurse who mentored me in my first intensive care post. Walking into the bed space of a critically ill patient is terrifying. Yet Lyn demystified and made sense of it all. She was one of the best nurses I’ve worked with. The fundamentals she gave me define my practice 20 years later. Lyn was an SEN. Yes, she’d done the ICU course but ‘it was only the one for SENs’. It struck me there was something very wrong with the system.

But nursing is now so far at the other extreme that we are losing a section of people really committed to a career in caring.

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