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Mark Radcliffe

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‘It’s good that the character of nursing is being debated’

It’s probably no bad thing that the character of nursing is being publicly debated. I’m not convinced that the ramblings of the unelected and largely pointless Tory peer Lord Mancroft is the best way to get the ball rolling but, as with so many things, we don’t get to choose, do we?

Mancroft branded nurses ‘grubby, drunken and promiscuous’ in a House of Lords debate last week. He claimed that nurses chatted to one another about their sex lives and alcohol intake in front of patients, had dirty fingernails and were slipshod and lazy.

What is interesting here is how the personal experience of one man so quickly became a general overview of the character of people who nurse. Mancroft’s insights were not reported as a patient experiencing some of his nursing team as being poor but rather as an insight into a whole profession.

Partly that is due to the manner of the man’s complaint. He has – by reason of birth – more power than he has earned. Had he any grace, he might have found a way of framing his concerns in a constructive way. He might have spoken with the ward manager, he might have spoken with the RCN or done an interview with the nursing press reflecting on his experience and inviting discussion. He might have talked about how his experience had disappointed him and wondered why the nurses who had looked after him had presented themselves as poor examples of an otherwise well-respected profession.

Indeed, that might have generated a slightly more sophisticated debate. On the one hand, we have union leaders quite understandably defending the profession while, on the other, we have The Sunday Times columnist Rod Liddle saying that the nurses he has known seemed to quite like a drink and had ‘gone like the clappers’.

I think we will find out more about nursing by the way the profession responds to these observations than from the insight of those who make them. Some nurses might feel a bit depressed. Some might feel angry. Most won’t take Mancroft too seriously although they may wonder about the care that led to his accusations.

The most useful response – and it is implicit to the profession – is: ‘Is there anything I can learn from this?’ Are there circumstances where professional standards slip? If so, what engenders them? How can they be reduced? If not, what is happening in the experience of the patient to make them perceive their experience in the way that they do? And, if unfounded accusations are made loudly, how can we defend the profession?

Anything else is defensive and defensiveness rarely helps. And, in addition, it lends power to the opinions of those who do not necessarily deserve it by conducting any discussion on their terms. Let’s not do that.

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