Most nurses are amazing people who give so much of themselves to help their patients, service users, residents and local community. But their empathy and kindness needs feeding, rewarding, and nurturing, or it can run dry.
The incredible impact nurses have on those they care for never ceases to amaze me. I am frequently humbled when I see them going the extra mile for their patients, despite being overworked and under-resourced.
Every winter we hear of nurses battling to work through deep snow to care for the sick and the vulnerable, while most people are calling the office to say they can’t make it in. Every Nursing Times Awards brings tales of service redesigns that improve patient care but often make life more difficult for nurses. And we’ve just heard about Ceri Davies and her student nurse friends at Bangor University.
After seeing patients without families being left out of the festive good cheer while on placement last Christmas, Ceri decided to launch an appeal for donated gifts so that everyone at Wrexham’s Maelor Hospital could enjoy this year’s season of goodwill. Her initiative is supported by other student nurses, their lecturer and a local Aldi supermarket.
And if that wasn’t enough, Ceri is also working with her daughter’s primary school to organise Christmas boxes for children at a local homeless shelter.
Amid stories of increasing pressure on nurses, challenges facing the profession and relentless financial cuts making it difficult to provide high-quality care, this is a story that melts the heart even more than the John Lewis Christmas TV ad.
Ceri demonstrates extraordinary empathy and kindness, and her devotion to helping others should be recognised. Doing the right thing, the compassionate thing, and the kind thing rarely means doing the easy thing. It is inspiring to see a student nurse, who is also a busy mum, give up her free time and her energy. Ceri, I salute you and wish you the best of luck with your appeals.
Sadly, not all nurses respond so impressively to patient need. Last week the BBC’s Panorama programme revealed some shocking displays of poor care; in fact it was worse than poor care – at times it was neglect and cruelty.
The nurses in question worked at four care homes run by the Morleigh Group in Cornwall, which have now been placed in special measures by the Care Quality Commission. In their defence, the nurses were overworked and under-trained; they had little idea of how to care for and soothe people distressed as a result of dementia.
But I’m not sure you can blame the system for making nurses ignore their patients’ cries, resort to morphine to keep them quiet or leave them on a bedpan for hours. But that’s what happened at Morleigh’s care homes.
Sometimes in the wake of scandals, we are told the system crushes nurses’ compassion because they are too stretched to provide care. Maybe so, but nurses are bound by a professional code of conduct, and required to reflect on their practice, think about the care they provide, and challenge and question the system, ensuring the patients they are paid to care for are safe and afforded their dignity. I recognise this can sometimes be a challenge, but we cannot heap all blame for the sort of neglect shown on Panorama on the system.
Fortunately, the vast majority of nurses manage to retain their compassion and take their code of conduct seriously. But the fact that most nurses do this in the face of enormous challenges does not mean they should be taken for granted. They are the backbone of healthcare and we cannot afford to lose them.