Events at the Royal College of Nursing Congress in Liverpool last week were inspiring, heartbreaking, frustrating, irritating and jaw-dropping.
The week kicked off with a flurry of media attention on the RCN’s revelations that - surprise, surprise - nurses do too much bureaucratic paperwork and that there are not enough nurses to provide safe care in a variety of settings across the NHS.
But the big news came when the college said the government’s proposal to compel all student nurses to do up to a year’s training as a healthcare assistant before starting their course was “stupid”. Health secretary Jeremy Hunt went on the attack, suggesting the RCN had no right to criticise, considering its role in Mid Staffs.
It was a message that hurt and confused congress. In fact, the government’s response to any criticism is to play “the Mid Staffs card”. It seems that if you challenge any health policy, Mid Staffs is brought up to quieten you. Never mind there is no evidence in the Francis report that nurse training - or nursing - are to blame.
The government’s response to any criticism is to play “the Mid Staffs card”. Never mind there is no evidence that nurse training - or nursing - are to blame
Had the health secretary come to congress, he could have been put on the spot about his claims. Instead, he was able to hurl insults from Westminster without ever facing the consequences.
There were excellent keynotes from Lord Willis and a tub-thumping address from chief executive and general secretary Peter Carter. Austin Thomas, lead nurse for the Paralympics, spoke of his NHS care when he was nearly killed in a motorbike collision.
He told congress of how he was “haunted” by the sounds of buzzers, phones and cries for help going unanswered. “There was a massive feeling of abandonment, and to lie there as a nurse and hear that and not be able to do something stays with me,” he said.
His picture of an overstretched NHS that caused him additional weeks of pain because of the care he received tallied with the experiences of delegates who are noticing the effects of cuts on nursing.
Nurses still have compassion, but every bit of support for them is being driven away.
Enter Molly Case. A student nurse who delivered a powerful message to congress about how it feels to be a nurse or student delivering the best care you can, while the media criticises in a flurry of hatred. You can watch it here: tinyurl.com/YT-MollyCase
As we go to press her poem has more than 91,000 youtube hits and counting. Her words were brilliant. Her presentation superb. Take note Mr Hunt et al - it is possible to possess intelligence as well as compassion. And those who do make the best nurses.
Jenni Middleton, editor
firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow me on Twitter @nursingtimesed