Every newspaper I have seen over the past two weeks appears to be giving away a fitness guide, with names such as Think Your Way Fit, Olympic Fitness for the Over-40s and Fifteen Ways to Fit Into Last Year’s Pants. Nursing Times isn’t planning such a supplement, they are too busy doing nursing stuff, so I offer my own personal guide to wellbeing.
I weighed myself a week or so ago and I found that I was seven pounds heavier than I should be. I dealt with this quickly and efficiently and I simply changed my mind about how heavy I should be. Who is to say that my ideal weight is 14st 10lb, just because I have been that weight for two or three decades? My ideal weight is now 15st 3lb, so well done me and give me that past-the-use-by-date Toblerone.
Reframing a problem to stop it being a problem is an age-old political technique, isn’t it? Sometimes it is obvious, for example when the Thatcher government changed the unemployment figures by not counting people who were under 23.
Other times it is more subtle, like when David Cameron offers up an initiative that at once blames nursing for any crisis of care in the health service and gives nurses more to do without any additional resources, investment or support, while making it look as though he both cares about the problem and has come up with a solution. One can imagine the boys back at HQ were very proud of that one.
Now, of course, one should be careful before dismissing any form of attention drawn to something as important as a failure to care. However, one should also be careful not to take too seriously what amounts to PR nonsense without putting it into some sort of context.
For me, there are two problems with the prime minister’s suggestions for hourly ward rounds, a vague suggestion to look at cutting red tape and implementing Productive Ward.
The first and most screamingly obvious is that, without resources, hourly ward rounds become simply another task - another piece of red tape in fact given that someone, somewhere, is going to have to eventually demonstrate that hourly ward rounds take place. At best, it will require an already-stretched nursing team to speed round the ward on skateboards ticking off names.
At a time when the NHS is being squeezed and services are at crisis point, a vague piece of mechanics and some patronising words are frankly silly.
The second problem is the assumption - and politicians and commentators of all hues make this mistake - that giving care is something that will happen if nurses (the silly, forgetful little dears) are simply prompted to do it.
The ability to offer genuine, consistent, skilled and appropriate care to all patients takes more than just an afterthought. While it requires skill, resources and time, it also requires resilience, replenishment, educational investment, emotional labour and well-articulated cultural values as well as some space in every continuing professional development budget in the country.
Care giving, if we are genuinely going to address it, requires thought and investment - and I don’t mean financial investment here but political, clinical, intellectual and ideological investment. It requires a change in thinking, and renourishing nursing staff, not more spin. Anything less amounts to an excuse to do nothing, or a way of avoiding a complex and profound problem that might be too hard to address genuinely.
Mark Radcliffe is a senior lecturer and author of Gabriel’s Angel.