I trained as a mental health nurse in the 1980s, which means I am very good at table tennis but I couldn’t put a drip up if you gave me a drip erection kit and a set of instructions.
I am not very good at anatomy and physiology either, although I know an ear when I see one.
However, mental health nurses - despite what the Nursing and Midwifery Council says - don’t really need to be good at these in my view and, while I have met many adult nurses who find it difficult to sit down for any part of a shift and talk with people, I can do that all day and every day and consider it a job well done.
In short, if you are an adult nurse on a busy ward, the only use you would find for me would be as a hatstand, unless you had arranged some sort of table tennis play off against another nearby ward where the winner gets to keep the last healthcare assistant. In that circumstance, I’m definitely your man.
Of course, it is crass of me to identify adult nurses as ward based. Many work in the community, or in schools, or general practice.
And not all mental health nurses are good at table tennis. Some have developed more clinically precise skills, which, bizarrely, do not involve ping pong at all. And I haven’t even mentioned the often overlooked talents of child nurses or learning disability nurses.
In terms of education, I have long believed this creates difficulties for nursing. How does a generic education genuinely prepare nurses for the incredibly disparate range of nursing roles there are?
“Accepting pay cuts when bankers get bonuses is simply obscene. It isn’t about politics - it is about morality”
However, it is not the “one size fits all” mentality of the NMC that concerns me right now. Rather, it is the politics of looking after nursing.
There are more than 660,000 nurses on the NMC register. There are more nurses in the UK than there are people in Manchester, Sheffield or Birmingham. If all of us wanted to move to Glasgow, everyone else in Glasgow would have to move out which, let’s face it, would give us absolutely nothing to do.
In short, we are the largest single professional group in Britain, although I suspect counsellors and independent financial consultants are catching us up.
Yet, despite this when we are confronted by assaults on our working conditions and pay - most recently a freeze
on increments - we don’t respond as a collective, do we? The voices of 660,000 people do not rise up as one and say “no”. Instead, the mass that is nursing separates out, divides or becomes insular, quiet or busy.
Partly, of course, it is habit - partly it is culture. Historically, all managers or politicians had to do was start a rumour about cuts and the eager to please nurse would start legislating for less. But surely now we know better? Now we are more politically astute?
I have never known what it is that the mass of nurses have in common beyond sharing a name and trying to care for patients. However, if their work or skills do not unite them, surely the assault on their working conditions, pay and - dare
I say it - even more importantly, the care they bring to the world surely now should?
Accepting pay cuts when bankers get bonuses is simply obscene. It isn’t about politics - it is about morality. I can’t help wondering that if all the nurses, whoever or wherever they are, accept this, they will only be asked to sacrifice more in the future.