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Opinion: Jane Warner

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‘Could the NHS benefit from Greek philosophers?’

Many of us believe implicitly that philosophy underpins our nursing practice. We often allude to our so-called philosophy when asked to account for our actions. Being conscientious nurses, we may even write essays, correctly referenced, to show that we have become truly grounded in what a philosophy of nursing is all about.

On the other hand, some of us may regard philosophical enquiry to be nothing more than a distraction from the daily workload. Why on earth should I be required to prove that the cardiac monitor in front of me exists?

In philosophical terms, although most of us believe we know quite a lot, philosophers tell us we might be better off realising we know nothing, and using this as a springboard for the acquisition of wisdom. So, the question is – could the NHS derive some benefit from ancient Greek philosophers such as Socrates, Plato or Aristotle? At the risk of being the bearer of bad news – I really believe that it could.

If you could somehow transport Plato forward approximately 2,400 years and let him wander around NHS sites for a while, he’d probably crash a laptop or two while creating his Athens password. More importantly, though, he would be quick to identify potential ‘philosopher rulers’. Plato viewed such people as having undergone the highest level of training possible, possessing supreme talent, and serving the state by serving society.

As we know, the NHS is approaching its 60th anniversary. In the 1970s the Salmon Report was about as popular for nurse managers as squeezing into trendy platform shoes during an acute exacerbation of gout. The acceptance of Salmon seemed to pave the way for even more reorganisations, restructurings, reinventions – call them what you will – but the philosophical rigour driving such changes has arguably always seemed shaky. We are still bickering about extending GP surgery opening hours, polyclinics and practice-based commissioning.

So, how would Plato feel about this? He might be irked to find that his ‘philosopher rulers’ were struggling – that their love of wisdom and their search for knowledge, together with their need to pursue learning, was being corrupted. Instead, he would find streams of jargon-ridden consultation documents, foisted on clinicians who just want to get on with the job of caring for sick people to the very best of their ability, without any interference.

Oh, and the cardiac monitor in front of me doesn’t exist – I made that bit up.

Jane Warner is a practice nurse in Devon
NEXT WEEK: Brian Belle-Fortune on new proposals around organ donation

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