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