The media storm following publication of the latest CQC report on hospital care of older people has abated has left health professionals – and particularly nurses – feeling bruised and battered.
Of course some extreme examples described in the report were simply unacceptable. No one should have to lie in excrement for two hours, and it is hardly something staff could have been unaware of.
However, the commentary once again got hijacked by the people who think nurse education shouldn’t extend far beyond wiping bottoms, making perfect hospital corners and mopping fevered brows. What these people fail to realise is that healthcare is a totally different landscape from the time when nurses’ responsibilities were primarily what we now variously call basic, fundamental or essential care.
Nurses have moved into territory once occupied by medics, not in a power-hungry land grab, but because their education has equipped them for this - and because there simply aren’t enough doctors to take on the increasingly complex tasks and responsibilities modern healthcare demands. Would those who want nurses to return to what they see as a golden age that probably looks like 1950 also be prepared to accept the technology and medical interventions available at that time?
But however much the nursing role has changed, the fact remains increasingly vulnerable patients, with increasingly complex healthcare needs, don’t always get the care and compassion they need. So how can healthcare providers address this?
Of course there’s no single answer, but giving clinical staff the right support and leadership would go a long way. And this needs organisational commitment rather than expecting hard-pressed ward managers and team leaders to carry the entire burden. So here’s one option: originating in the US and brought to the UK by TheKings Fund, Schwartz Centre Rounds give staff from across a hospital a forum to discuss non-clinical aspects of patient care - the emotional and social aspects of their jobs. Typically taking place once a month, with lunch provided, the one-hour meetings take a single patient story, presented by the team who provided care, and discuss emerging issues.
A Kings Fund evaluation revealed that staff value the Rounds enormously for providing space to reflect on their work and support in dealing with the emotional challenges associated with caring for increasingly frail patients. It’s probably too much to ask that the mass media acknowledge the changed demands of healthcare, but the organisations employing nurses and other professionals in their increasingly demanding roles must do so - and offer them real leadership and support in fulfilling their responsibilities.