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'Let’s shout about the complexity of nursing'


Will people ever really understand what nursing actually is and that it’s a lot more complex than wandering around, asking if someone wants a cup of tea or their pillows plumped?

Last week health secretary Jeremy Hunt addressed delegates at the NHS Confederation in Liverpool and said he had visited several hospitals as part of the government’s plan to get health ministers more in touch with the front line of healthcare provision. He mentioned working as a housekeeper, doing photocopying, acting as a porter, assisting on a GP telephone line and washing down beds. He also said he had done hourly nursing rounds at Salford but said “no clinical roles were involved in this”.

What is intentional rounding, if it is not clinical?

One would have thought that with intentional rounding being the government’s seemingly biggest focus in nursing that the health secretary would be fully conversant with what it actually is.

But again, it seems that nursing is seen as a set of compassionate tasks - and not a role that requires clinical prowess.

There are people in very senior positions in the NHS who seem to think that compassionate care and clinical tasks are divorced from each other

The health secretary is not alone. There are several people in very senior positions in the NHS who seem to think that compassionate care and clinical tasks are divorced from each other.

Nothing can be further from the truth - those tasks such as helping a patient with their meals or washing can provide a wealth of clinical insight. And those clinical tasks - such as administering pain relief promptly - must be accomplished with compassion.

Worse than that, we still have people in the NHS who believe there is no need for nurses to have degrees or any form of education. Some look back with rose-tinted spectacles on their halcyon days of training and believe anyone who puts the letters “SEN” or “SRN” on their CVs are superior to those who can put “BSc” after their names. I’m not suggesting you need a degree to be a fantastic nurse, but I am angered and frustrated by the view that having a degree automatically precludes you from showing compassion.

Nursing is complex. It requires intelligence, knowledge and wisdom to know how to help a patient get better, and compassion, insight and experience to know how to make a patient feel better.

That nurses have increased their portfolios to take on more clinical responsibilities is better for the patient and the profession. Patients are seen quicker by a clinically competent and compassionate professional. So let’s start telling people what nursing really is, and let’s make sure that they hear us.

Jenni Middleton, editor Follow me on Twitter @nursingtimesed


Readers' comments (40)

  • Jenni

    For months I have been saying Nurses should tell the public what they actually do all day. Nursing needs a public voice, needs to do roadshows, needs to explain what is going on, needs to show the public what they do.

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  • Lynne Stobbart

    Nursing is so much more than 'mopping the fevered brow' and as has been stated repeatedly knowledge and compassion are not mutually exclusive. Nor is knowledge synonymous with wisdom. This is a great piece but I suspect you're preaching to the converted - we need to get this message across to a much wider audience, and we're all responsible for doing just that, as per the previous comment.

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  • I have never heard it said better! We have the same issues in the states. We lament our low pay compared to other clinical roles, but then hold one another down with a refusal to realize that a degree can bring the respect we crave through quantitative outcomes, without any loss of qualitative talents. It's time we said to the degree-less, we are not invalidating your contributions, but it is well past time to move ahead...

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  • A good read is 'Militant Nurses' blog about a late shift she did on her ward. Everyone ( NB Mr. Hunt) should read it, it gives in detail exactly what a nurse has to do on a ward shift. A proper eye opener for non nurses.

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  • I have to disagree....the old SRN/SEN was a much better training. we saw the patient as a whole. we had to know a lot about a lot!!!!!! not all this waiting around for specialist nurse this and specialist nurse that!!!!!!!!!! we should all know about dressings, inhalers ,colostomies etc etc. too many clip boards ... I could go on and on .. 3rd year students who do not know how to check a manual blood pressure. bring back the old schools of nursing. there was more pride in being a nurse and more respect from the general public.

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  • michael stone


    'Nursing is complex.'

    Almost EVERYTHING 'is complex' - it tends to be that everyone understands the complexity of whatever they themself is doing. (couldn't work out how to get that one gramatically correct - can't be bothered to try, either !)

    That could set me off on my 'perspective issues' theme, but I'll resist.

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  • Hmmmmmm......maybe I'm wrong.....but it seems to me, reading this, that cos I've only got a diploma I'm not a "real" nurse and I'm unable to handle the "complexity" of being a nurse......bit of an insult, I feel.
    I've only had my "worthless" diploma for ten years..... in that time I've worked in A&E, managed a branch of a nursing agency, worked in hospice care, learning disabilities, drug rehabilitation, brain injuries, high dependancy, nursing homes and surgery........whist being praised in every setting for my knowledge base, professionalism and leadership skills...

    Might I take this opportunity to remind miss Middleton that the" person" comes before the "qualification"? Yes, nursing is a job with depth but if you love what you do, its not just is!

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  • Martyn Taylor | 12-Jun-2013 3:13 pm

    so many jobs?

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  • Hmmm have read Martyn's reply and re-read the article and cannot at any point find the sentence/paragraph/intimation that anybody without a degree has a 'worthless' qualification. Those were your own words.

    In fact the article states exactly the opposite - that Nursing is a complex and challenging job which required multiple skills and abilities, not least, for those that wish to, the capacity to do exactly what Martyn has done, qualify in a variety of specialities which demonstrate complexity.

    Perhaps backing each other and respecting each other, as the article clearly suggests would be more constructive than passive manipulative sniping.

    Division has always undermined the profession, we are better than that. We are a multi-talented, multi-qualified group of committed people with complex skills.

    When we celebrate difference we achieve more, better for everyone, not least our patients.

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  • Anonymous | 12-Jun-2013 8:11 pm: well said. Unfortunately people seem to like to snipe and judge their colleagues. Makes us look like an unprofessional bunch of clowns.

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