The chances are that when Unison, the Royal College of Nursing, the Nursing and Midwifery Council, the Department of Health, most of One Direction and everyone who has ever played Dr Who all agree something is a good idea then said idea will sweep the nation and become law very quickly.
Indeed one cannot help but notice that in the face of such universal approval, disagreeing runs the risk of appearing childish or bloody minded; arguing for arguing sake.
And so good manners suggest I acknowledge that the revalidation of nurses every three years - as a backdrop to the Francis report and to show patients that nursing is reflective and responsive - might look not just like a good idea but is obvious and inevitable. But I can’t.
In truth, I think it is misguided, misconceived, poorly premised, politically manipulative and ultimately distracting the “powers that be” from a far more important, if costly, issue. Our preoccupation with how we can check on nurses only makes sense if it is accompanied with an equally vocal “how can we help nurses to nurse well?”.
Sometimes I wonder if there is an Anti-nurse somewhere coming up with ways that nurses can be made to feel more defensive, undervalued and marginalised.
“What can we do next Anti-nurse?”
“Well, let’s make it harder for people to become nurses, make them work for a year on low pay, expose them to all sorts of unmentored, unsupported nonsense and, if they survive, offer them an education. Oh and make them hop. Hopping hurts.”
“OK Anti-nurse we’ll start with the new one. But what about those who already qualified?”
“Well,” offers Anti-nurse - who, for me, has the body of a lizard and the suit and simper of Nick Clegg, but you can make up your own - “reduce staffing levels, stop pay rises, threaten pensions, cut out increments, call them names, make them listen to Brian May, ban them from wearing shoes, make them ask patients to sign off their revalidation, especially the ones working in theatres, palliative care and dementia services… see how they like them apples”.
Anti-nurse knows every organisation charged with making sure nursing is seen in the public eye as being professional, humble and responsible has to embrace revalidation, or any other proposed sackcloth-and-ashes policy spoken of alongside Francis. They do what they want and call it action even when it isn’t.
Effectively proposals like this are indicative of an attitude whereby nursing is assumed to be bad and being bad means it must be punished or at least policed more. Now, I don’t think nursing is bad but I can be a romantic old ninny so let’s assume I am wrong. If something important is not working how can it make sense to punish it, rather than trying to mend it?
A revalidation process doesn’t repair practice, it isn’t a way of getting rid of bad nursing. It can, at best, function as a way of showing that nurses are being checked. In reality, we get rid of bad nursing by helping nurses to nurse better, by making education, group supervision or engaged practice analysis not just available, but also mandatory. If we are going to punish nurses for their failures how about we do it by demanding they learn as opposed to demanding they fill in more forms?
Revalidation is a distraction - another one, a popular one it seems - but it has little or nothing to do with the mechanics of improving practice and enabling nurses to nurse well. It’ll probably happen. It won’t help much.
Mark Radcliffe is senior lecturer, and author of Gabriel’s Angel. Follow him on twitter @markacradcliffe