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We should not see support workers as our enemy

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There are, among healthcare workers, a series of popular responses to an economic downturn. Some move to Spain and try to open up a vegetarian restaurant, yoga retreat or drive one of those speedboats that drag inflatable bananas around the bay throwing screaming kids into the sea. A few hunker down and prepare to see out the storm - they have mortgages or children and are rubbish at yoga. One or two get angry with politicians and managers and try to campaign to defend services. But others manage to construct something creative and progressive to fight the effects of recession.

Last week I spent time with a group of practitioners developing a range of ideas to improve their various practice areas. There were some brilliant initiatives on show, from ways to improve palliative care to extending infection control. These people were experienced but not weary, determined but flexibly minded. And they were all employed on bands two or three. They were not “real” nurses. They had little or no professional representation and no hope of promotion. As one of them said: “I know the best way of improving things on my ward is to make it look like someone else’s idea - so that’s what I’ll do.”

But in this climate, is this what nurses want to hear from their “untrained” colleagues? If they are demonstrating a dynamic capability to drive care forward might that not do nurses out of a job?

‘Healthcare assistants are not the ones making cuts. They are just like most healthcare workers - unable to drive a speedboat, do yoga or retire’

Nurse training is never easy; it involves sacrifice, anxiety and hard work. To go through that and find no job because posts are being taken up by “untrained” nurses is pretty infuriating. It also turns every discussion that ever took place about “skill mixing” and “improving educational standards” into a bit of a joke.

But that is not the fault of ancillary and support workers. Healthcare assistants, occupational therapist aides or any of the new variations of paid care givers are not the enemy of the professions here. They are not the ones making cuts and they are not undercutting the nursing workforce for their own profit. They are just like most health workers - unable to drive a speedboat, do yoga or retire. We are not separated by our level of education but united by the purpose of our labour.

When things are tough people can get a bit tribalistic. Some become so ridiculous they pay attention to preposterous and inadequate political groups like the British National Party. We become threatened by circumstances we cannot control and we can take it out on whoever makes those circumstances most manifest.

Shouldn’t nursing be above that? We need to grow a rich and varied workforce, protect nurses and nursing jobs and support colleagues who are not nurses. That may be contradictory and complex but what’s new? It’s nursing - nothing is easy. There may be tough times ahead but all those committed to patient care need to unite to protect services - regardless of banding, job title or qualifications.

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