A nursing historian has attacked media critics that express “highly critical” but “ill informed” opinions about the profession.
Christine Hallett, professor of nursing history at Manchester University, said the efforts of the profession to improve during a period of severe financial pressure were being undermined in some cases by the media.
There has been a “spate” of newspaper columns in recent years that contained “powerful destructive myths that can do serious damage to an already overburdened workforce”, she said at the Royal College of Nursing’s annual congress in Harrogate.
Speaking at an event on the media’s perception of nursing through its history, she defended in particular the move to an all graduate profession, which she said was often targeted. She highlighted the use of the phrase “too posh to wash” in articles.
“A better educated and more reflective workforce is more, not less, likely to uncover and act against abuses [of patients],” Professor Hallett told delegates.
“The profession needs its well educated, confident practitioners. Individuals who feel empowered to advocate for their patients, rather than minions.”
She suggested that a view was being cultivated based on the past image of nurses as “subservient” and “self sacrificing”.
“We need to be compassionate and giving good care….but it’s not about self sacrifice. It’s about being professional and compassionate,” she said.
But Professor Hallett warned that anecdotal concerns and allegations about care standards raised in articles should not be dismissed.
“What is needed more than ever is a competent, well trained researchers to address the problems faced by nurses in today’s NHS,” she said.
“We should offer a historical perspective on how the processes of professionalisation, educational reform or creeping managerialism have impinged on the way nursing care is delivered. The ability of nurses to do the job they want to do.”
She added: “[Nursing is] working hard to address public concerns. It’s doing so during a period of austerity when its resources are even more squeezed and its client base even more needy and vulnerable than before.”