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'Why does the glass always have to be half empty for nurses?'


If you are wondering why, after the driest spring in decades we have just had the dampest June since the last surprisingly damp June it is because I have a new bike.

I have conducted reasonably extensive research and have found that whenever I get on my bike it rains.

My findings have been confirmed by a man called Big Si who is painting the window frames of the house opposite. He had grown so used to the sunny spells turning to wintry showers whenever I got on my bike he eventually shouted out “Can you hold off for a couple of hours mate - I really want this top coat to dry before it starts raining again.” Conclusive proof that my bike and I make rain happen.

But then, who of us hasn’t heard or said “Of course its going to rain, I left my umbrella at home”, as if clouds have both consciousness and malevolence or a taste for slapstick?

Deep down, we don’t believe that there is a causal relationship between our actions and the weather. I don’t honestly believe there is a rain god watching me and my bike and I don’t think Big Si does either. Really it’s part of the British tradition of “just my luck” self-mocking pessimism - a pessimism that many nurses specialise in.

A Department of Health survey taken over the winter months of 2010 suggests that, while nurses appear to have the least detailed knowledge of the ever-changing health bill among the staff groups in the NHS, they have the greatest awareness of the threat to jobs (news, page 6, 28 June).

The obvious question in the face of that statistic is: “If nurses do not fully understand the details of the health bill, why would they assume it will mean jobs are threatened?” In part it seems the answer lay in the way nurses had experienced changes to services over the previous 12 months. The same survey says nurses felt services were getting worse and 45% of them expected that deterioration to continue.

This pessimism may be born of many things: tiredness, change fatigue, familiarity with spending cuts, low morale, pay freezes, the threat to pensions. All this combines to imply an overwhelming sense that what you do is no longer valued in the way that it once was and, if it has less value, it becomes more disposable.

And, of course, there is political experience. It appears that Tories in the main don’t actually like nursing, they don’t quite get it because it involves incalculable and frankly quite alarming human traits like compassion.

But may the insecurity also be born of a loss of collective confidence or professional clarity? Do you, as a nurse, feel you have any collective power to influence policy? Are we as well versed as other professional groups in articulating loudly and clearly why nursing needs to be the foundation stone of any health service?

Maybe many nurses have been made to feel disposable by seeing the core strengths they bring to services devalued or marginalised by constant reorganisation and a fundamental change in language -you deliver care rather than simply care, for example.

But, when nurses feel unvalued and when they feel politics overlooks them, we must assume the politics are flawed. If nurses are experiencing a disinvestment in nursing, we need to find a way to act and to reclaim the potency and importance of nursing. Are we doing that?

This is more profound than party politics - it is about the place nursing has in the way we organise ourselves. Are we contributing enough to that struggle, I wonder? I am not convinced.


Readers' comments (3)

  • Damn it Mark, your bike knackered my day out at the zoo!!

    However, whilst I agree with you that there is a pessimism in our profession based on a wide variety of reasons as you suggest, I think the assumptions we make of job cuts are made due to much more overt experience. We know when there are cuts to be made, it is Nurses who are targeted first, our pay, our increments, our pensions, our training. Yet the army of middle management, execs and admin keep growing don't they?

    I think the only way to reclaim our professional power and potency is to remove our profession from the public for a short while. As unpalatable as that may seem, by striking for a single day, the public might just be reminded of how essential a workforce we are, and the government may be reminded how powerful we can be if needed. It works with teachers, it worked with the fire fighters, it WILL work with us. All it would take is one single day, the NHS would cease to function and we could demand the working conditions, the pay and pensions, the staffing ratios, the level of patient care, etc WE choose.

    However, I suspect you are right that the profession is too apathetic and kotowed to organise ourselves and struggle toward that.

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  • 'A Department of Health survey taken over the winter months of 2010 suggests that, while nurses appear to have the least detailed knowledge of the ever-changing health bill among the staff groups in the NHS'

    Does ANYONE properly understand the current proposals - I don't !

    And it was harvest time which made it rain - ask any farmer !

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  • you have a great way with words Mark, you should be published...oh wait...!

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