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'Is it now the norm not to acknowledge patients?'


As a nurse lecturer, Justine is well aware of how patients should be treated in hospital departments, so her own experience as a patient came as a shock

As a clumsy and accident prone person I am no stranger to A&E and other hospital departments so my recent case of ‘throwing’ myself down the stairs at home was not much of a surprise to myself and those that know me well. 

But the events that followed were more of a surprise to me.

I went to A&E immediately after my fall and was invited to another department for a check up three days later. This is my account of that appointment.

I waited in one large waiting area for a while, I could see it was busy so this was to be expected and not a problem. 

After a while my name was called along with two others. The nurse who called our names didn’t acknowledged any of us but simply barked “follow me” in our general direction. 

“We all hobbled as best we could after the nurse as she marched at a pace down a corridor”

All three of us were there with injuries that impaired our mobility so we all hobbled as best we could after the nurse as she marched at a pace down a corridor. We were shown into another, smaller waiting room and told to “wait in there”. 

I was a little puzzled as to why we were moved to this second waiting area but the nurse disappeared before I had a chance to ask any questions.

After another short wait another nurse shouted my name and the instruction “follow me”. 

I dutifully followed but she walked so fast I couldn’t keep up with her (remember mobility impairing injury). I saw her disappear around a corner but by the time I reached the corner she was gone. I looked around and could see no sign of her so waited…helplessly… when she came back for me, she simply pointed to a room and said “wait in there”.

“After another short wait a nurse came in and did not acknowledge me at all”

After another short wait a nurse came in and did not acknowledge me at all. She rummaged around in a drawer, said “oh rubbish, where is it?” (not to me), slammed the drawer shut and left in a huff.

After a while a doctor arrived. He was respectful, a good communicator, gave eye contact, spoke to me like a human being and seemed genuinely interested in my injury… crickey, how noticeable the difference was!

Over the years I have heard many cases where people report the doctors as being bad at communication and not showing respect, whereas nurses are seens as always good at this and at making the patient feel like a valued human being… well, it seems, not any more. 

“This experience is so far from the idealistic we talk about in class it bears no resemblance to it at all”

What is going on? Is this really acceptable? Being busy is NO EXCUSE for this type of behaviour. This is really not good enough.

I’m not asking for much but eye contact when being spoken to, being waited for while being shown where to go, actually being acknowledged, is that too much to ask for?

As a nurse lecturer I acknowledge that sometimes it is easy to be idealistic but this experience is so far from the idealistic we talk about in class it bears no resemblance to it at all.

I hope this is not the norm, both for these nurses in particular and nurses everywhere but I can’t help worrying…

Justine Barksby is a lecturer in learning disability nursing at University of Nottingham


Readers' comments (15)

  • Degree nurses?
    Did their training include communication & body language or even good manners

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  • I'm speechless! (no pun intended)! good communications and respect for others have been so instilled into my that is something I take totally for granted and especially when dealing with more vulnerable individuals and especially those suffering illness, injury or psychological trauma who have heightened sensitivity to the queues of others.

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  • michael stone

    I suspect - being generous and avoiding the 'do degree nurses really care' issue - that the argument in defence, will be 'but the NHS 'just measures the numbers'': in other words, that if you could corner those nurses, they would say 'we don't have enough time, to do the job differently' [and I HOPE they would add 'even though we would like to'].

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  • not having enough time has nothing to do with acknowledging a fellow human being let alone a patient which is part of the job or any job where you are in contact with the public. it has far more to do with attitude throughout the organisation, good upbringing and training, suitability for the job and terms and conditions of employment as well as leading by example.

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  • michael stone

    Anonymous | 13-Sep-2015 6:26 pm

    I was actually thinking more of the 'walking too quickly' part of the story, in connection with the 'not enough time' defence: I am aware that saying hello with a name, takes very little extra time.

    As for 'it has a lot to do with the attitude of the organisation' I agree - and 'just measuring the numbers' is 'a possible attitude of the organisation', isn't it ?

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  • This has nothing to do with being a degree or non degree nurse but more about being a decent human being with manners and respect. Time and being busy are poor execuses of uncaring staff.

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  • Great communication skills is about making a connection with someone incorporating verbal and non-verbal. Creating a meaningful impression. Are degree nurses taught Communication Skills.

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  • It's a lot easier for doctors to be nice to patients, they don't spend that much time with them. Long term A&E nurses have been through the roughest of times. I remember when I did my A&E placement, we had admitted a heavily inebriated man. After admitting him, I got him a cup of tea. He looked at me and said a racial profanity and spat at me. I've had a lot worse done and said to me, but the point is a lot of patient contact eventually desensitizes you to your patients.

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  • Anonymous | 16-Sep-2015 6:18 pm you have summed it up perfectly

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  • Since retiring because of ill-health, I have visited many hospitals, GPs, clinics and been admitted on to different wards.
    I have NEVER EVER EVER been ignored or spoken to rudely in the last four years. Just putting it out there!

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