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'Recognise and reward the moral code of nurses'


The day of industrial action certainly left nurses with a moral quandary.

Many of those we spoke to (see pages 4–5) decided to take action, but those who decided not to felt they just couldn’t because of their code of conduct. During my webchat on Wednesday I spoke to a few nurses who had declined to pick up a placard because it just didn’t feel right to “turn their backs on patients” as they put it.

One story that reached the Nursing Times office this week was of a nurse who had said she would picket “but only if the strike fell on her day off”. A genuine show of support - a protest maybe, but in terms of having an impact, such a universal approach would hardly make George Osborne run to get his calculator.

Of course nurses’ desire to stick to what they consider to be their “moral code” is admirable, entirely defensible and understandable. After all, the teachers and many other civil servants don’t run quite the same risks by standing outside their work waving banners and encouraging drivers to hoot their horns, do they? Little Sammy may not get his weekly dose of algebra on Wednesday afternoon, but it’s not quite the same as Moira not receiving thrombolysis to increase her chances of surviving her myocardial infarction.

There are fears (see page 9) that in “doing the right thing”, nurses are not making their feelings on the subject felt and their stoicism is being mistaken for acquiescence or apathy, and could be seen to back up David Cameron’s view that the strike was a “damp squib”.

So will the utter determination of nurses to do their jobs come what may put them in a vulnerable position in resolving this issue? If anything, their attitude shows how much more nursing should be valued – and rewarded appropriately.

Follow me on Twitter @nursingtimesed


Chat live with the editor and other nurses at every Wednesday at 1pm about this column.



Readers' comments (61)

  • I didn't come into nursing to live in poverty or anywhere near it. Neither did I come into nursing to become rich. None of us did. If the people here thought that money was everything, then they wouldn't be in our profession.

    However, it would never have been my aspiration to do a job where I was so badly off, that I depended on state benefits to supplement my income (I worked very hard to ensure that it didn't happen, and it didn't).

    Merely managing isn't good enough. If you aim low, you will achieve little. This attitude has prevailed for too long and is destructive to advancement of our profession and better patient care. I don't want that for Nursing, and thankfully, neither the vast majority of aspirational, ambitious commentators here.

    I was on strike last week because, after 30 plus years in this job, I STILL care about what I do and it is worth fighting for. But, Latter Midwife, Mike, Sarah, Catherine, John and others have said that way better than I could.

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  • Anonymous | 7-Dec-2011 3:51 pm so you think that it is acceptable for a highly qualified and educated professional to be on or below the breadline then? IF you are a Nurse, which I doubt, then you are part of the problem and a shame to us all. I am sick and tired of this moronic line of thinking, one that the public seem to have too, that we are very well off in cushy jobs with gold plated pensions, that we should accept the low pay, the poverty, the conditions, because we 'are there to help'. Bull! The public should realize how lucky they are that Nurses DO have such a moral code, or that many are too spineless to act, depending on how you want to look at it, and they will realize just how lucky they have been to have us as a workforce and the NHS as a service if the government push us any further, because Nurses WILL walk, we can only take so much.

    Latterlife, well said!!! I can understand the 'moral code', but I totally agree that it should not be used as a reason to not take action. For far too long it has been used as emotional blackmail. I think any action we do take has a lot more weight precisely BECAUSE of this code, and precisely because of the essential nature of our work. Despite the foolish assertions of some, the conditions we have to work under and the pathetic remuneration we get in terms of pay/perks is despicable for a profession such as ours.

    We need to strike, and continue to take action, for ourselves, for our profession, and to better the care for our patients! The 'moral code' we all have should no longer be allowed to be used against us, and neither should Nurses allow it to hold them, or our profession, back in the dark ages.

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  • mike | 8-Dec-2011 7:40 am

    "I am sick and tired of this moronic line of thinking, one that the public seem to have too, that we are very well off in cushy jobs with gold plated pensions"

    I never said any of that, but we are also not poverty stricken and working in appalling conditions as you keep implying.

    We are paid higher than average wages for a relatively short week, we get higher than average holiday entitlement, we get good sick pay, we have on-site occupational health advice and help, we don't have to work outside in the winter cold.

    Get some perspective.

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  • on the last ward I was in contact with the nurses always left on time even if it meant leaving a patient in the lurch. they said that if they didn't look after themselves they were unable to look after their patients.
    this is very different to the attitude we had where patients always came first no matter how late you had to stay, even though our bosses (following a directive from above - ie the coffee drinkers in the top floor offices) said no as there was no overtime payment, which we didn't expect anyway. they failed to understand that our aim was our patients and colleagues and not extra pay. despite this we could not envisage leaving a patient or a colleague in the lurch so we arranged among ourselves to sometimes take the extra time off if and when possible to make up for it, usually at weekends where there was a long shift overlap but this was not planned in advance we just did it if the ward was particularly quiet and we were not on take in.

    however, the new bosses who replaced the old because the autorities put them there considering them more efficient or better puppets and pushed the good old style ones with whom we had a good working relationship out, tried to stop this as well so it had to be done covertly.

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  • Anonymous | 8-Dec-2011 12:29 pm

    oups, this was supposed to go into the 'should we all be a little more selfish' blog. that's what comes of having several interesting articles open at once and the drawback of not being able to edit one's comments after they have been submitted.

    I do wish NT would change this practice and have pointed it out to them several times.

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  • Anonymous | 8-Dec-2011 12:02 pm I am getting tired of your foolish assertations here. Many may not be 'poverty stricken', but many of us are not far from the breadline either.

    1. "We are paid higher than average wages", what average? Slightly higher than minimum wage, yes, but nowhere near enough to reflect what our profession is or does, and certainly nowhere near enough to remunerate our efforts, our dedication, our skill or qualification.

    2. "for a relatively short week" Are you insane? Where the hell do you work? A full working week is a bare minimum that many Nurses work, many work overtime just to make ends meet (myself included) and that is not even included the many hours overtime that many work FOR FREE!

    3. "we get higher than average holiday entitlement" No we don't.

    4. "good sick pay" Some do, most don't. But then again, you could say the same as those on long term sick benefits without any of the work we have had to do!

    5. "we don't have to work outside in the winter cold" What a ridiculous comparison. No we don't, but neither are teachers, or office workers, or politicians, or doctors or ... Furthermore we are expected to put up with conditions that many don't have to put up with. You didn't see hospitals shutting down when it shut last year did you?

    You want me to get perspective? Okay, fair enough. This isn't my first career, and I was better off without the education and qualifications I have gained to become a Nurse! Why not compare ourselves to jobs (and note the difference between the terms profession and job) which you seem to be alluding to, which do not require any education or qualification or comparable stress levels, or 'work outside in the winter'. Let's look at binmen, or till workers in Aldi, or HCAs. We do not get THAT much more than they do, especially after tax, so what is the point in getting the quals or putting up with the stress, the responsibility, the accountability and the conditions we do? But instead, lets compare ourselves to comparable educated, skilled professions shall we? Ones that require a high level of education and qualification, ones with comparable stress levels and unhealthy work patterns, or why not compare ourselves to teachers, a comparable educated public service, who (although still not perfect) get better pay and conditions than us, or better yet, how about bankers, or lawyers, politicians or Doctors, where are our higher levels of pay to reflect our skill and qualification, where is our comparable status?

    People like you, if you are truly a Nurse, are the cause of our professions low pay, low status and lack of aspiration. You are the cause of the fact that our profession and our NHS is being decimated with very little fight. 'Don't rock the boat', 'Don't push for better conditions or pay', 'let's just accept what we have', people like you are the reason our pay is so low, has been frozen and cut constantly, people like you are the reason the government feels it can attack our increments and pensions without any fear of retribution, because Nurses will just bend over and accept it won't they? It doesn't matter if jobs are cut, job freezes are put in place, Nurses are losing there jobs or struggle to find work, because those that remain are allright aren't they? Despite working with staffing levels that are dangerous and ILLEGAL in other countries!!! You need to WAKE UP!!!! And get some damn perspective yourself!

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  • mike | 9-Dec-2011 8:00 am

    You really don’t have any idea do you?

    1. “Slightly higher than minimum wage”

    Minimum wage for someone aged 21 and over is £6.08/hr
    Starting salary for a Band 5 nurse is £21,176 so based on a 37.5 hour week that is an hourly rate of £10.85/hr. For a Band 5 on top increment £27,534, an hourly rate of £14.12 which is more than double minimum wage.

    2. Working week is one of the lowest in Europe, most EU countries expect their staff to work from 37.7 to 40 hours per week.
    If you have several dependants to look after Mike then I can appreciate that you perhaps need to do some overtime. If you are single with no dependants, what do you spend your money on?

    3. Agreed average holiday in the EU is 24.6 days per year, in UK annual leave entitlement is 28 days per year including public holidays, NHS get 35 days on appointment and 37 days after 5 years and 41 days after 10 years.

    4. Sick pay: Most people get Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) which is £81.60 per week. NHS get:

    “Employees absent from work owing to illness will be entitled, subject to the conditions of this agreement, to receive sick pay in accordance with the scale below (see Section 12 for provisions governing reckonable service):
    • during the first year of service – one month’s full pay and two months’ half pay;
    • during the second year of service – two months’ full pay and two months’ half pay;
    • during the third year of service – four months’ full pay and four months’ half pay;
    • during the fourth and fifth years of service – five months’ full pay and five months’ half pay;
    • after completing five years of service – six months’ full pay and six months’ half pay. “

    5. “What a ridiculous comparison” I doubt that those who do have to work in the cold, rain/snow/wind agree with you, and I’m sure that when the heating systems break down and it is cold at work, we are the first to complain.

    It is the people and their attitudes that turn a job into a profession, not just the fact that they have qualifications. If nurses want to be treated like professionals then they need to behave as such. There are far too many incidents of poor care, failure to rescue deteriorating patients, drug administration errors to be blamed purely on “staff shortages”. There are some excellent nurses out there but unfortunately there are many that are well below standard. Lets stop excusing their ineptitude by blaming everyone else for our failings.

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  • Anonymous | 9-Dec-2011 10:19 am you are talking absolute nonsense.

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  • Well said Mike! You are so right!

    Anonymous | 9-Dec-2011 10:19 am what utter rubbish!

    First of all, Mike never said Nurses didn't earn more than minimum wage, there's just not enough of a gap to reflect our roles!

    Many Nurses, including myself, are NOT earning enough to be able to live comfortably. Constant pay freezes and pay cuts have devalued our pay to the level that it does not reflect our roles. Yes, it may be above minimum wage, but I did not gain a degree, and more, to earn minimum wage. I do not take on all the stress and responsibilities for the job, for minimum wage! I did not become a Nurse to become rich, but I do expect a fair wage for what I do, and a fair pension too!

    Second, "if nurses want to be treated like professionals then they need to behave as such" We do! Every single shift! We should be treated as such simply by virtue of what we do! But we are not treated as such in any way, shape or form. We are not paid as such, we are not given the respect or status as such. Just because there are some who are not up to scratch, as there is in every walk of life, does not mean that the rest of us can be judged on that standard and not treated as professionals!

    Back to the article, Jenni is right, Nurses ARE to be applauded and respected for their moral code, and what they do. But Mike, Mags and Latterlife Midwife and others are absolutely right that we should not be stopped from gaining our true potential as a profession as a result of it! In fact, we should get a lot more BECAUSE of it! And if people like anon above stupidly think that we should martyr ourselves and not improve our lot just because we have an important key profession, then it is time they retired from Nursing because they are doing more harm than good.

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  • Anonymous | 9-Dec-2011 10:19 am it is you who have no idea.

    Latterlife Midwife I applaud you.

    I have to say as well that I haven't been qualified for long, and I went on strike. But that does not mean I do not have a moral code either. I do. I absolutely do. It is the same moral imperative that made me get into nursing, the same code that keeps me looking after my patients. But that does not stop me from wanting, from needing, to look after my own interests too. I would be blindly stupid to think like that. And patients should understand that if we take strike action again in the future and if there is noone to look after them (which there will be because we still maintained emergency cover) that we do so because we are forced to. I already give my all, emotionally, physically and professionally to look after my patients, yet we have to look after ourselves too.

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