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'Politicians still regard nursing as a good place to make savings'


Many of us will undoubtedly have spent some of the last few days looking back as part of the celebrations of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee.

Vintage 1950s dresses, floral teacups and wall-to-wall films of the coronation and Her Majesty’s early reign will have played their part.

But as Professor Anne-Marie Rafferty, professor of Nursing Policy, Florence Nightingale School of Nursing and Midwifery, pointed out at another big celebration for Her Majesty two weeks ago – the 125th anniversary of the Queen’s Nursing Institute – history can do more than just make us nostalgic.

History can provide us with many things, not least context and insight, according to Professor Rafferty. She reminded us, as we head towards another set of reforms, that a good historian loves to look back at previous innovations, such as the introduction of polyclinics during the last government, and use that 20:20 vision to answer questions about how successful the current changes in the health service may be.

Looking back at 125 years of Queen’s Nurses is also useful to see how far the nursing profession has come – and how far it hasn’t.

The skirts may have got shorter, the modes of transport more comfortable and the complexity of care provided more technologically advanced. But in some ways things have not changed that much for nursing.

Arguably, it’s the area of specialisation that has seen the greatest change. Nurses are running their own nurse-led clinics, which have transformed care, ensuring that patients receive fast, efficient and professional treatment. They are keeping patients with long-term conditions out of hospital and helping facilitate faster discharge so that patients can be treated in their own homes – which is proven to help with recovery rates.

But while these changes may be making nursing a more attractive career and ensuring the public are treated more effectively, nursing is still being hobbled by some of the attitudes and resourcing issues that have always held it back.

While the profession has made great leaps through specialist roles, such as diabetes and respiratory nurses, it is still held back by those who fail to recognise the difference these posts are making and potentially can make if better resourced.

Infection control specialist nurses, for example, have worked tremendously hard to make advances in reducing MRSA and C-difficile. And now, as reported in last week’s Nursing Times, infection control posts are being cut or not replaced – and the advances these nurses have made could well now be lost, all because those in charge of the purse strings see specialist nurses as an expensive luxury.

Nursing is making the advances, leading the way forward, making a charge for greatness – but the politicians and those controlling the budgets are not behind it. They still regard nursing as a huge and costly workforce, and a good place to make savings – shortsighted savings, of course. They still fail to realise the huge potential that nursing has to redesign services, make efficiency savings and improve healthcare outcomes.

Today’s nurses may not be donning the long skirts that got stuck in those Queen’s Nurses’ bicycle wheel spokes over a century ago, but things are still getting in the way of their direction of travel. And isn’t that something that history should have taught the ministers and the politicians not to do?


Readers' comments (12)

  • Its time for those planning services actually to spend time with specialist nurses and observe that they are not only getting the benefit of holistic, patient friendly nursing skills but most of the time they are also getting a very very cheap and arguably more effective registrar/consultant. My consultants ask ME for advice. Expensive nurses? No, cheap doctors, with an added dimension. What could be more needed in the present QIPP climate?

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  • Of course they do! At the risk of sounding like a stuck record, just take a look at the political ideology at work!

    Is it time that nursing stopped playing the victim and started to become political?

    Under the euphamism of 'choice' the gvt want to break up the NHS and allow the private companies to provide as much and as many services as possible. We are seeing many services (and employees) transferred from employment in the NHS to these private companies. To make it more attractive to these companies costs have to be reduced. The obvious target is the medics, but the gvt will not touch them as they are politically astute. I think that the medics take up 60% of the pay bill - feel free to Google it.

    We know that nursing and nurses are good for the nation's health. We know that we are cost-effective, but that Tory ideology will force down costs in order to reach it's goal.

    So, I will get the ball rolling and attempt to predict one of the next moves that the gvt will make:

    The number of nurses on the wards will fall dramitically over the next 3 years (ie the remaining parliament) to be replaced by HCAs and Assistant Practitioners. The gvt will say that the 'efficiency' savings have to be met (whilst spending £3-4billions on the reorganisation), and that APs can do everything a trained nurse can except administer medication.

    Unison wil rattle their sabres, RCN will moan at the apathy of nurses whilst joining in the victim role.

    But what SHOULD be done to stop the lunacy? Answers below!

    Hopping Mad.

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  • tinkerbell

    Anonymous | 7-Jun-2012 8:24 am

    Well said. We are stuck in victim role waiting for a rescuer without apparently realising we have to rescue ourselves.

    Regards from another stuck record. I grow tired of repeating myself but am still hopeful that the penny will drop and nurses will realise we have to save ourselves.

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  • In an ideal world Tinke you would have thought they would be realising how under threat they are now. But sadly I still hear people in work who don't understand what is happening to our pensions and didn't even realise there was a vote in January because ' I always just throw the RCN letters in the bin'
    Again the number who don't understand the potential impact of the health and social care bill or where surprised to hear the NMC are raising fees.
    Ask them whats happening in Towie though and you will get an in depth heated discussion, I despair

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  • tinkerbell

    Anonymous | 7-Jun-2012 11:07 am

    I don't know what Towie is, i am seriously out of the loop. What is it?

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  • Towie must be a soap.

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  • 'The Only Way Is Essex' a truly dreadful reality show.

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  • tinkerbell | 7-Jun-2012 11:19 am

    Anonymous | 7-Jun-2012 11:07 am

    'I don't know what Towie is, i am seriously out of the loop. What is it?'

    If you have no idea what TOWIE is, then good for you !

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  • tinkerbell

    Anonymous | 11-Jun-2012 11:26 am

    I won't bother with it then, not even though now i am slightly curious.

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  • Kick us when we are down why don't you? Our job has always been undervalued but I had thought it was getting more recognition with the changes in nurse education and the move towards degree nurses. Now it seems to have taken a step backwards. A report today says tha satisfaction with the NHS is falling again and I wonder when someone will correlate that with the fact that there are now less nurse numbers (again!)

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