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‘Cardboard nurses are a credit to the profession’

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Cardboard nurses – say the BBC – are being used to tell visitors and patients to wash their hands before they go on to the wards in hospitals in Lincolnshire. Apparently, the life-size cardboard nurses contain a recorded message that is activated by people walking past.

‘Please wash your hands’, it probably says, perhaps adding ‘and do it properly because I’m watching’.

And such will be the success of this simple but brilliant idea that thousands of new cardboard nurses will go into production with a range of health education messages.

‘Have you been to the dentist lately?’ some may ask randomly or ‘How much have you had to drink this week?’. And for any hard to say, but often necessary interventions, let’s get the cardboard nurse to say them for us: ‘You look like you could lose a few pounds. Can I suggest the salad this week?’ These interventions can only help the health of the nation and if one or two cardboard nurses want to temper their health education message with the odd personable aside, like ‘Nice jumper’ or ‘Nope, your bum doesn’t look big in that’, I think they will be accepted not only by the patients but also by their colleagues.

And getting on with other members of staff is just as important as making the right impression with the patients. It’s all well and good having new staff but we need to think about how they integrate into the team. Are the cardboard nurses, for example, being taken out on ward nights out? And if they are, are they being left by the toilets to remind people to wash their hands or are they being afforded the same kind of fun the rest of the team receive and being put on the dance floor?

Once integrated there is no reason – not with our commitment to diversity – why the cardboard nurse cannot take on other roles. I’m not suggesting she can do the rota but there is no reason why she can’t chair meetings or teach the junior doctors communication skills. Indeed, with her candid no-nonsense style, it will probably just be a matter of time before she is whisked from the wards to the boardroom. Nothing will be able to stop the cardboard nurse. Except rain, perhaps.

It’s interesting that this simple and good idea rests on the image of a nurse. It wouldn’t work if we had cardboard cut-outs of Napoleon or Graham Norton or Britney Spears telling us to wash our hands. And it isn’t doctors. There is something reassuring about it being the image of a nurse that we assume will be listened to… even if it’s made of cardboard.

Now we all know it’s just a matter of time before someone starts selling advertising space on them or drawing false moustaches on their faces. But until that time, credit where it’s due. Nurses are cool. Even the cardboard ones.

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