This week being a nurse has been tougher than ever.
And whenever I have told anyone what I do for a living in the past few days, their reaction has been the
same. What do I think about Violetta Aylward, the nurse splashed all over the papers for turning off tetraplegicpatient Jamie Merrett’s ventilator. Of course, my answer is that such cases are upsetting and tragic, and the profession must act to ensure these are never repeated.
It’s right that such terrible mistakes get flagged up, and that we learn from them. And the lessons for the
nursing profession are clear. They are about the importance of proper training, correct skill deployment, recruitment, and, of course, the need for a regulator to watch over us all.
But that demand to educate and inform doesn’t seem to be what’s feeding most of the papers’ coverage of these events. Of course, I know a shocking story is what sells papers. There is something sensational about a nurse - someone employed in a position of care - who gets it wrong. The fall from grace is irresistible to many journalists.
Last week’s issue of Nursing Times covered the image of nursing, and the public’s lack of appreciation of the skills and knowledge required to enter the profession and rise through the ranks.
Two NHS trusts had done some research, which revealed that the public feel nursing is menial, lowly ranked and poorly paid, with entrants not typically portrayed as demonstrating ambition or intelligence.
Sensational media coverage of cases such as Aylward’s will do nothing to elevate the image, and will only deter more bright stars from considering nursing as a career. And of course, those papers that paint nurses as evil will be the same ones bemoaning the dangers of falling nursing numbers.
The public need to know when mistakes are made, but the media also needs to balance that with showing just how many nurses are getting it right, day after day, saving lives and doing a phenomenal job, otherwise the profession will never attract the right candidates to follow in their footsteps. And then the papers will have
no end of stories to fill their pages.