Childcare available, my wife and I decide to go out on “a date”.
“New restaurant,” I say. “Looks good and it has Cuba in its name.”
“Does Cuba have a cuisine?” asks my wife, aware that I know nothing about food beyond the fact that one should chew it before swallowing.
“Well the people who live there certainly eat,” I offer.
“Maybe we should go to the pictures,” she suggests. “When we go for a meal you always insist on having a conversation.”
“Well we could take a book each? Or maybe go to different places?”
At which point she notices the babysitter is looking nervous, so mellows a little and agrees to eat out - on condition I do not talk about obscure pop music, how cross you would have to be to become Theresa May, or what would be the best Christmas present: an invisibility cloak or a time machine?
As this was the shortest list I had ever been given I ushered her to the restaurant. Before I can tell her I would pick a time machine we both notice that one of the waiting staff in the restaurant is a band 5 nurse we know. We chat for a few minutes and my wife asks why she is working here.
“Moonlighting,” she smiles. “I need the money.” Of course lots of people work on their days off - most, if not all, of my students do, plenty of my friends have. But the fact that it may be common shouldn’t mean it goes unnoticed right?
I was struck by the words of the Nursing and Midwifery Council’s chief executive Dickon Weir-Hughes last week when he said: “In considering how to respond to calls for industrial action, nurses and midwives must ensure that their actions do not jeopardise good standards of care.” He reminded nurses that the code of conduct stresses they should make patients their “first concern” and provide a high standard of care “at all times”.
Now the chances are he is just trotting out the regulatory line. One would imagine the dull thing about being a regulator is you basically feel you are only allowed to say one thing that amounts to “careful now”. And really that statement is a bit like saying “careful now” to someone about to cross a busy road. If they get run over you can tell relatives you warned them against it and perhaps feel good about fulfilling your moral obligations but, in truth, you have done nothing helpful. You’ve just loomed a little in the background and absolved yourself of any responsibility.
But, underneath that, this political expression - and commenting on the consequences of strike action is most certainly political - is as superficial as it is unhelpful. Ask any practitioner what good practice requires and they will say things like a decent environment, refreshed and engaged nurses, and the right resources. Good nursing doesn’t happen because of dark threats from conservative institutions; it happens because of good, satisfied, focused and valued nurses. Nurses who don’t have to work on their days off, nurses who feel - and indeed are - valued.
If the NMC wants to get political it should be noting that standards of care are threatened by disinvestment in services and staff, and that patients are put at risk by bad politics that restrict good nursing. And it should be looking to oppose the circumstances that can breed patient disinvestment rather than almost threatening nurses who feel forced to consider making personal sacrifices to preserve clinical standards.
Outside of the NMC’s remit? If it is then so is commenting on the possibility of strike action.
Mark Radcliffe is a senior lecturer and author of Gabriel’s Angel.