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'We need to address low morale, not wait for things to get better'

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A  long time ago I wrote about our need for a giant annual nursing party.

I suggested that we would commandeer a park big enough for half a million people plus, most of whom will have baked.

I envisaged a celebration; a letting down of hair and a casting off of support stockings. There would be games; egg and spoon races, pin the tail on the social worker and a giant game of Twister; we might hire a big bouncy castle too and, although most people will claim they just want to sit down after three or four G&Ts, there would be much bouncing.

And there would be music; we’d hire a DJ and make a little corner with cushions and some lava lamps where the psychiatric nurses can play acoustic guitar.

Afterwards we’d tidy up, exchange recipes and holiday ideas, and, as people relaxed, they may wryly compare struggles: the long days, the varicose veins, the difficult decisions… and most of the comparisons would finish with a shrug, a reaffirmation of the good bits and a reaching for one more gin.

But that was a long time ago. I suspect any allusion to self-mocking camaraderie around a bottle of gin and a bouncy castle is absurd in a different way to what it was then. Now if we imagined a coming together of nurses I suspect the mood would be different – a little like the economics, it would be more austere. 

Recently Nigel Edwards, the chief executive of The Nuffield Trust said staff morale was a bigger threat to the NHS than rubbish economic policies (I’m paraphrasing). He described a “toxic mix” breaking the affinity staff had with the NHS. He is right; the NHS is characterised by – and arguably exists because of – the goodwill and engagement of the staff who embody its values. Without that the NHS becomes nothing more than a set of failing relationships attempting to imprint economic half-heartedness on to unending health needs.

His remarks come shortly after the last staff survey that said less than a third of respondents thought there were enough staff to do their jobs properly.

A Department of Health spokesperson claimed there were signs in the staff survey that things were improving and noted good leadership as the single most important component in raising morale in any team. Perhaps she is right – if we don’t include funding, proper staffing, an appropriate working environment, education, training and good footwear. 

However, one can’t help feeling that if morale is low everywhere, and it is breeding philosophical disengagement, a loss of connection and “a creeping sense of inevitable failure”, we need to address that rather than wait for things to get better.

Ideally, I’d organise another party, but who can get the time off these days? In more practical terms the least we have to do is ensure every clinician is getting appropriate, regular clinical supervision. Not managerial supervision, where we get to check who can take more on their caseloads or who has been late for an appointment this month, but proper, clinically and professionally focused supervision.

Everyone should have been having it since they qualified and many are but not everyone is and not everyone is getting it in a way that is restorative and formative.

You can’t nurse properly without supervision. It isn’t possible. The least we can do is to ensure it is implicit to all clinical posts. And then we need to build on that.

Mark Radcliffe is senior lecturer, and author of Stranger than Kindness. Follow him on twitter @markacradcliffe



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