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‘Even anti-ageing drugs can’t solve the current staffing crisis’

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A drug that can reverse aspects of ageing has been successfully trialled in animals by scientists at Erasmus University Medical Center in The Netherlands.

The scientists are planning human trials for what they hope is a treatment for old age. The drug has rejuvenated very old (and quite surprised) mice, restoring their stamina, their fur and improving some organ function

A treatment for ageing that enables people who are tired, achey, whose fur has seen better days to become rejuvenated and shiny – what’s not to like? And while I don’t want to get ahead of myself, there’s the solution to the ongoing nurse recruitment crisis right there.

“They’ll happily work for 40p an hour and a quarter of humbugs at Christmas”

Now I know there are going to be one or two, maybe four, possibly seven, nurses who are considering retirement, who may feel tired or have grown to rather like their now-dull, patchy fur who may be thinking “keep those mouse drugs away from me, I’m not doing this for another 35 years” – but those killjoys aside, I think most career nurses would love nothing more than to “restore their stamina, coat of fur and some organ function” and go around again.

However, if health secretary and harbinger of doom Jeremy Hunt is half the man we think he is, it won’t be the near-retirement nurses he’ll target but the long-retired ones. Nurses who remember their caring days with a rose-tinted hue, who may have married Spitfire pilots or country doctors, who think Call the Midwife is a documentary. They’re the ones to whom the mouse drugs should be offered. They’re the ones to rejuvenate and re-recruit. Hell, chances are they’ll even bring their own hats.

Yes re-educating them will be an issue. They’ll need degrees and the accompanying knowledge and skills but once we’ve sorted that out we’ll have the nurses who won’t make a fuss about real-term reductions in take-home pay every year. They’ll happily work for 40p an hour and a quarter of humbugs at Christmas. And they will look great on it. With their shiny fur. Granted they may seem a little surprised when they get the bill for their training and I’m not certain they’ll immediately embrace early discharge or arguing about what constitutes social care but it is a recruitment well with great promise. Because recruitment remains an ongoing and deeply symbolic crisis for nursing – a crisis that no amount of ‘keep calm and battle on heroically’ aphorism can cover up.

Traditionally when nursing needs new nurses it goes on a recruitment drive. If it can’t get enough students it tends to go abroad and imports ready-made solutions. With our impending departure from the EU that recruitment well is in question. So that leaves mouse drugs.

“I confess I long identified Jeremy Hunt to be a very poor health secretary but perhaps my criteria for judgement is wrong”

Or – and I’m just saying this because, all things considered, I think it a more likely scenario than the mouse drugs – it means fewer nurses. More nursing associates maybe, ever more vague nurse-patient ratios, a continued desire to frame the nurse as an organiser of a care rather than an expert in care delivery.

I confess I long identified Jeremy Hunt to be a very poor health secretary but perhaps my criteria for judgement is wrong. If I measure him by his capacity to improve health services, patient outcomes, professional effectiveness or organisational progress, he is dreadful. If, on the other hand, I measure him by his ability to reconfigure healthcare according to a chosen economic model and drive the UK toward a US-style health insurance care system, he’s doing rather well. And if that’s what we aspire to, I won’t be taking the mouse drugs.

Mark Radcliffe is senior lecturer, and author of Stranger than Kindness.

Follow him on Twitter: @markacradcliffe.

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