A Long time ago, when we were ‘a-courting’, I asked my wife what her perfect job would be.
‘Mystery shopper’, she said, quick as a flash.
‘Not astronaut?’ I offered looking as one did in those days for just a hint of compatibility.
‘Not astronaut,’ she said, adding quickly: ‘But shopping would be good because it would give me something to do while
you were away, er, astronauting’. Which turned out to be the nicest thing she has ever said to me. So far.
I asked her what she would shop for and she said - shoes.
‘What sort of shoes?’
‘All shoes,’ she said as if it was a stupid question.
‘But when would you have the chance to wear them?’
She shook her head at my foolishness. ‘Most shoes are not for wearing,’ she sighed. ‘They are for making us feel better.’
Which is by all accounts as close as psychology gets to a truth now. According to The Times recently, two new studies on the psychology of consuming tell us that while spending money leaves us unsatisfied and fails to compensate for not having a richer, fuller life - or being an astronaut - the act of shopping is ‘the heroin of human happiness’. We may know it is shallow and ultimately unfulfilling but so what, it feels good and in my house we have some cupboards full of unworn shoes to prove it.
‘We know the act of shopping is ultimately unfulfilling but so what, it feels good and in my house we have cupboards full of unworn shoes to prove it’
So given the fact that shopping is the all-powerful cultural phenomenon it is, one shouldn’t be surprised to find at least two NHS trusts using mystery shoppers to improve the quality of services they offer.
Now some nurses may be forgiven for feeling that hired patients who are looking for fault cannot possibly place into context the working day nurses face and thus any judgement of their practice is unfair.
But we know, don’t we, that nursing should be able to endure scrutiny, particularly if the scrutiny focuses on the unarguable qualities that should underpin all healthcare interventions - respect, courtesy and good manners.
So why might the idea seem so discomfiting to many nurses? Maybe because it exacerbates a ‘them and us’ culture - the sense that managers exist to check on and ultimately to criticise clinical staff.
Or perhaps because in a climate where staff are feeling under pressure and undervalued, secret checks on their ability to do their job feel untimely and aggressive.
Regardless of how we check on the quality of care, whether it be by ‘mystery shopping’ or just having managers asking patients how things are going, what nurses need to know is that the commitment to best practice is a collective one and that managers are not looking to catch them out but are instead committed to working with them. I wonder, are we sure that all nurses know that?