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'Essential care must never be described as menial'


Last week, I read in The Daily Mail that health secretary Jeremy Hunt had been rolling up his sleeves and getting involved with providing frontline care.

So far, so good. I applaud the idea of ministers getting to see what life is really like for domestics, porters, nurses, doctors and, of course, patients.

I do believe that they won’t really get a true picture of how hard the job is if they dip in and out for a few hours at a time. Doing back-to-back, eight- or 12-hour shifts day after day or night after night is where you really get to appreciate the emotional and physical labour of caring roles in the NHS.

While ministers getting a taste of what it is like to work as a nurse could be beneficial for them and the profession, I am not entirely convinced it’s deepening the understanding of nursing.

In fact, the paper that talked about Mr Hunt’s experience last week quoted a Department of Health spokesperson as saying that because the health secretary had no “clinical” skills he was carrying out “menial” tasks.

I take great umbrage at the suggestion that any task in healthcare provision is “menial”. Just as I wince when I hear the word “basic” being used to describe helping patients with meals, getting washed or going to the toilet. These essential tasks are complex and require skill. And by describing them as “menial”, the DH is showing a lack of respect for the role of nursing staff.

If the DH underplays the expertise required to do these jobs, then how can we hope that the public will understand?

How can we persuade the public to respect and trust nurses to not just care for them, but to make clinical decisions about their treatment if we continue to perpetuate this myth that nursing is easy to learn but involves drudgery?

Keep on referring to nursing as “menial” and it will be hard to attract new recruits, tough to maintain their morale if they do join and nigh on impossible to ensure other members of the multidisciplinary team truly appreciate the influence and impact of nursing.

It is far better to use these visits to show the real talent and potential for observation and assessment.

This is an opportunity to showcase nursing. To raise its profile. To celebrate its achievements at the highest level.

Never miss out on an opportunity to tell people what you do - and how you do it. The real story about nursing needs to be told by nurses - no one is better placed to do it, and no one else can do it, or so it seems.

Jenni Middleton, editor Follow me on Twitter @nursingtimesed


Readers' comments (11)

  • I am not a Nurse but even I know helping
    and supporting people is complex.

    Nursing is complicated and caring, scientific and compassionate.

    People only judge on the phyisical aspects of the job and have no idea how complicated Nursing really is


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  • looking after or helping another human being is a privilege. they are permitting you to enter their own most private and intimate space. working in an old peoples' and care home demonstrates how complex this is and it does not involved merely applying your own learnt and acquired skills through experience and routine but learning and adapting to the needs, habits and rhythm and wellbeing of each individual.

    when I get up in the morning and carry out all my routine tasks to make myself presentable for the day and when I prepare for bed at night I do not consider this menial but an essential part of my, and most other peoples' daily routine, so why should I consider helping anybody else with this tasks menial? it is a time to get to know them better, observe them, communicate with them,, indentify any problems and further needs and wishes and work in partnership with them to assist them in fulfilling these and assuring their wellbeing which forms the basis of establishing good and trusting relationships on which to found further care and treatment and help to ensure its optimal efficacy.

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  • You are so right, Jenni! From now on, I will not offer any "back to basics" classes. I'll find a new name. After all, footballers make great money and enjoy prestige for the very basic act of kicking a ball!

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  • I totally agree Jenni. Back to back shifts would be a real taster for the Minister or anybody else but I doubt that the Minister would do it. It is hard work both physically and emotionally to say the least and it is work that is very much underestimated.

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  • Alice P | 30-Jul-2013 2:04 pm

    I hope others follow you. How about 'Essentiality and Ethics'?... or 'Essential care and Ethics'/ 'Essential and Ethical Care'. Good luck in your changing approach.

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  • tinkerbell

    thanks for making the point Jenni, well said.

    The clue is in the word 'essential'. I was thirsty and you gave me a drink, I was lying in my own faeces and you washed and changed me. I was hungry and you gave me food. I was frightened and you held my hand and listened.

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  • No such thing as menial, but there are core nursing skills, so we don't go back to basics but to the very core of why we became nurses and the things that make nurses so vital. Call it core, call it essential call it both and yes, call it ethics too.

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  • Tinkerbell,

    Having someone clean and look after you and listen to you is someone very, very special indeed.

    Its just "being there", in that moment of care, when you are needed and you just give a hug and a cuddle. I do this at work whenever I can.

    Washing and cleaning are essential, its saying "Yes, I care about you and I have compassion for you and I know you are a real person and I love you."

    To have someone clean and wash and feed you is a previlige.

    And this person is very, very special indeed.

    And this person is called a Nurse

    Thank you Nurses
    I love you all


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  • It doesnt matter how many trained nurses are on the ward If theyre not prepared to get off their lazy backsides youre flogging a dead horse Im sick of thetrained staff where Im workingIm an Assistant praqctitioner so expecte4d to do the work of trained nurses and Support workers In other words between the devil and the deep blue sea Im completely burned out and feel that I cant do this job anymore.Yesterday I wason an early with 3 trained nurses and a support worker I was asked to admit a patient then I was asked to do the bloods The support worker was trying to do bed baths on her own. The trained nurses were sat in the office talking" baby talk"We had major ops back from recovery who they never even looked at.I was then asked to do another admission when i completely lost it.I explained to the staff nurse could she not see that the support worker was bedbathing on her own and i was doing everything else At this moment the support worker came to the office and agreed with me. This goes on every day.The trained staff with the exception of 2 doing absolutely nothing.The care given to the patients by these nurses is appalling and terrifying The scary thing is that these are newly qualified and the nurses of the future.I had to go and do a patients BP manually as it was showing low on the dynamap.The trained nurse couldnt do a manual BP!!!!!!!I wished Id never done the course for Assistant Practitioner as I now have to do everything barr IVs I even have to second check medicines now which i didnt have to do.If theres no support worker on I have to do bedbaths and all there jobs as well.How are these nurses being trained Are they told that they will be able to sit in the office in a supervisory role while 1 person flogs their selves to death If you had 6 RGN with thiis same attitude you would still be no better off.One young staff nurse who was very good is leaving as she cant stand it anymore. Management are aware but of course nothing gets done.Its a total nightmare and Im completely burned out

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  • Anonymous 11.16am. Appalling - can you write to Jeremy hunt and suggests he comes to your ward. I think I will do that so he can see the impact of unfilled vacancies in my area. Apart from that I suggest you apply for jobs in community where you will be appreciated and not dumped on, I hope. Trained nurse can be so short sighted delegating everything then wondering why numbers of trained nurse are cut.

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