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‘We must feel confident decrying that which will harm nursing’

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Well 2016 was annoying wasn’t it? It started badly with the death of David Bowie, got ridiculous with Brexit and then went full ‘let’s eat our own feet, then go down the disco’ with the US electing as its president a man who has both the hair and the intellect of a coconut.

The year offered up the idea that we live in a ‘post-truth’ era – a time when shouting semi-formed assertions that may appeal to the way people feel about the world is the best way to determine a nation’s future. A year when politicians like Michael Gove waged war on ‘so-called experts’ with their mealy-mouthed facts and well-founded critical analysis. We don’t need accumulated expertise said the former education secretary, which unnerved the parents of school-age children everywhere.

“We are waiting for the best of our young to bite the bullet and decide they will wrack up debt to have a meaningful career”

But anyway, that year is behind us now. With a new date comes a new beginning. Or so we hoped when we were hugging each other at midnight on New Year’s Eve. We got through that, this one can only be better. Right? Well it probably will be. What are the odds we can have two years in a row like that one. Hell that hasn’t happened since what, 1939 and 1940? We’re due an upturn. Fresh start and all that?

I confess I feel a responsibility to try to be a bit rousing and talk about how things are going to be better now that it’s January but, given they aren’t, it feels a bit dishonest to pretend.

Let’s take, for example, oh I don’t know, nurse education. I don’t think too many of us are surprised to find that applications for nursing degrees are down. I realise the Council of Deans anticipates that everything will be splendid soon and people will flock to the university gates in their thousands to do a job that has been systematically devalued by a government that thinks nursing is less a skilled profession and more an opportunity for self-sacrifice. But at the risk of being a party pooper, what if it isn’t?

The removal of the bursary is wrong. Ridiculously, Govianistically wrong. It was never for the best of health provision, nursing or future nurses. It was premised on a desperate need to balance books that will be forever unbalanced.

And to quote the late great Bowie, “Where Are We Now?” Well, we are waiting for the best of our young to bite the bullet and decide they will wrack up debt to have a meaningful career and maybe consider applying in 2020 or 2022. In the meantime universities will have to manage with fewer applicants.

“One of the things nursing needs to do to help with that is reflect on the implications of never drawing a line in the sand”

But – and whisper these words quietly lest we offend someone – what if the smaller recruitment pool makes it harder to find brilliant students? What if they don’t quite manage to demonstrate the compassion and resolve we need? Or aren’t quite able to pass the Maths or English tests? Will we lower admission criteria? Run on lower numbers? Or will we take the fi nancial hit and explain to vice chancellors everywhere that nursing needs fi nancial support. Again.

Meanwhile, what are we doing to attract students into nursing? What are we doing to help ensure those making up the future workforce are as brilliant as they want to be? How are we enshrining the social value that nursing produces as distinct from other commodities?

I hope 2017 is better than last year. One of the things nursing needs to do to help with that is reflect on the implications of never drawing a line in the sand. Of never saying, “no, this is wrong; it will make things worse or harder”. I wonder, why do we struggle to do that? I wonder whether we always will.

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

Follow him on Twitter: @markacradcliffe.

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