We know the heart of patient care is good communication that informs, enables, empowers and respects patients. So it makes sense for the NMC to lumber into action and try to do something useful by providing guidance for the care of older people. In advising against behaviour that can be deemed patronising, it suggests that a nurse addressing patients with terms like ‘dearie’ or ‘love’ is being offensive.
Everyone from the RCN to Peter Andre has thrown their weight behind the guidance. RCN general secretary Peter Carter talks about nurses’ responsibility to preserve the dignity of patients at all times and Peter Andre might write a song about it, although that is unconfirmed.
It is a gentle – perhaps patronising in itself – reminder from a regulatory body that nurses shouldn’t patronise patients. Thanks for that, good to know you’re earning your money up there in NMC towers.
But I reckon there are some nurses who might not think that an old-fashioned term like ‘love’ is patronising. The same nurses perhaps who when a patient asks ‘sorry pet, but is there any chance of another pillow?’, might not fine the word ‘pet’ demeaning and demand an apology.
Dr Carter points out that the RCN has been saying for a long time that nurses should ask patients how they want to be addressed. And so they should. But what’s the point if, when the patient says ‘oh I don’t mind, dearie’, the nurse has to say ‘ahh, Mrs Johnson, sorry, but I’m not allowed to use any kind of word that might convey warmth’.
I assume the guidance covers the therapeutic relationship, detailing the mechanics of everyday nursing that could be described as the ‘conveyance of warmth’.
If we ask patients how they identify ‘good’ nurses, they often talk about kindness.
Dig further and we get a sense of human qualities, a capacity to communicate naturally, with warmth and respect.
There are legitimate circumstances whereby ‘good’ nursing will manifest itself by sitting with a patient, maybe touching them on the arm and maybe using a word like ‘love’. It makes me a bit uncomfortable to imagine that happening only for the NMC police to swing through the window with their ‘protecting the public’ hats on and clipboards in their sweaty palms.
Guidelines are useful for laying down principles. Surely the mechanics should be left to the nurses who are, in the main, pretty capable of choosing the words they use to care for their patients.
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