Patients like red tabards so why has there been such fury over them, asks Steve Hams
Having been in the middle of a media storm this week about the apparent “fury” caused by nurses at the Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother Hospital in Kent wearing red tabards with “do not disturb” on them during drug rounds, I couldn’t help but wonder what on earth has happened to the public’s perception of nursing.
Several people who commented on the tabards criticised nurses, which was unjust and undermines our patients’ confidence in a caring profession. Nursing is a challenging, pressured and tough job, but the rewards are truly incredible; each and every day I hear and see magical moments where nurses really do make a difference.
Our frontline nurses have, like those all over the country, been developing innovative ways to improve safety as well as patient experiences and outcomes - it’s disheartening when the tabloids berate our profession and call us “hopeless” if we can’t do more than one thing at a time or say we are too important and too lazy to help our patients. This isn’t what I see day in, day out from my colleagues - I see compassionate, committed and dedicated nurses trying to provide the very best for their patients.
“Despite the furore, we have discovered patients like the red tabards; it tells them the most important aspects of their care are being delivered to the highest possible safety standards”
Our introduction of the red tabards is related to a broader range of measures to improve safety, reliability, patient experience, staff satisfaction and efficiency of medicine management; it has never been about inhibiting the unique relationship nurses have with their patients. Implementation of the tabards is, in some areas, to support the Productive Ward philosophy of Releasing Time to Care and cutting waste in processes that prevent us from being with our patients, but the fear of giving a patient the wrong drug or an incorrect dose never goes away - ask any nurse who has made a medication error or a patient who has been on the receiving end of one and I am confident they would support use of the red tabards.
Our own observations as part of implementing the Productive Wards Medicine Module show nurses are interrupted by other ward staff and visitors up to 10 times while doing a drug round. Introducing the tabards in other trusts has seen a 70% drop in the number of interruptions, fewer drug errors and reduced delays in getting patients their drugs. The trial and implementation of red tabards is a simple and effective way to keep patients (and nurses) safe. We must do much more to inspire, motivate and encourage nurses to work with patients and their carers to come up with the innovative ideas to really transform patient care.
One commentator suggested Florence Nightingale wouldn’t be impressed with our tabards - on the contrary, if she was alive today and working in an acute hospital, I am sure she would have been at the forefront of this and many other innovations. She may not be so impressed with how some sections of our own profession denigrate nurses and nursing though. We need to support each other, not put each other down - the job is challenging enough.
Despite the furore, we have discovered patients like the red tabards; it tells them the most important aspects of their care are being delivered to the highest possible safety standards. Coming to the end of our trial and having listened to the wide-ranging commentary over the past few days, we will remove the phrase “do not disturb” to make it clear we have never been more committed to doing the very best for our patients, to keep them safe and to care with compassion.
I am proud to be a nurse and privileged to work with inspiring, committed and talented people who do their utmost to keep their patients safe and nurse with professionalism and compassion.
Steve Hams is deputy chief nurse and head of quality at East Kent Hospitals University NHS Foundation Trust