Nursing has not gone bad. That was the view of Peter Carter, chief executive and general secretary of the Royal College of Nursing, when he spoke at last week’s Student Nursing Times Awards ceremony in London.
He is most certainly right. No one who sat in that room and listened to the stories of nurses and students delivering extraordinarily compassionate care on a daily basis – sometimes in the most difficult of circumstances – could contend that the NHS is bereft of good nursing. It simply isn’t true.
Story after story of excellent care crosses my desk. I hear from patients who are overwhelmed at the good care they have received, from staff who want to praise their colleagues and from managers who are delighted with the way their nursing teams look after their service users.
Coming a week after the RCN congress, where nurses stood up and admitted to often putting their patients before their own families and themselves by going in on days off and working unpaid overtime, it is clear there are plenty of nurses who provide compassionate care that is exemplary.
But the chief nursing officer of England Jane Cummings says it is not consistent across all parts of the NHS. And she is right.
So why is this?
It could be there are pockets of bad practice that are not challenged. It could be trusts under pressure to meet tough financial or performance targets. It could be poor leadership. In many cases it’s all three.
Nursing needs to get comfortable with being challenged and challenging itself and others. Professor June Andrews, our lifetime achievement award winner at the Nursing Times Awards 2012, verbalised this beautifully at last week’s Student Awards. She said that you should always ask “Why?” when someone tells you not to do something or to do something.
But how comfortable are nurses and student nurses with asking why? How receptive are nurses to being asked why? And are they just too busy and too over-stretched to even think about whether they are doing things the best way?
The profession needs to find a way of creating a culture of expressing opinions that doesn’t create disharmony but fosters good practice and service improvement.
All leaders – not just some - need to get better at this open style of managing, and trusts need to think about always listening to their staff when they challenge and raise concerns.
Change must come from everyone – the leaders and their teams. Everyone has a duty to speak out – but must feel safe to do so.
This is why our Speak Out Safely campaign is so important. Everyone should feel comfortable challenging practice and raising concerns, and we won’t rest until they do.
Find out more about our campaign at nursingtimes.net/sos.