Nursing reform is long overdue

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THE shameful abdication of care – and complete absence of basic respect for human life – which resulted in the unnecessary deaths of hundreds of patients within the Mid-Staffordshire NHS Trust has rightly triggered a response from Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt which places far greater emphasis on the fundamental aspects of nursing.

Student nurses will have to work for up to a year as junior healthcare assistants if they want to receive funding for their nursing degrees in what is a worthy attempt to ensure that those coming into the profession have more extensive hands-on experience of tending to the personal needs of patients.

Yet the fact that such a reform is deemed to be necessary amounts to a damning indictment of a profession that has shifted too far from its original role – with potentially disastrous consequences for those receiving treatment in our hospitals.

The academicisation of the nursing profession has seen the teaching of basic care play second fiddle to keeping patients clean and comfortable, the primary role of all nursing.

There is nothing wrong with nurses having ambition – they should certainly not be regarded merely as doctors’ handmaidens – but this desire for career advancement must never come at the expense of their patients.

The move to place a “duty of candour” on providers of NHS services – with patients being told if something gone has wrong in their care – is another welcome reform that was recommended by the Francis Report. The pledge to cut the bureaucratic burden on frontline staff by a third will, it is hoped, free up more time to be spent attending to patients’ basic needs – even it is something as simple as ensuring the thirsty have a ready supply of water rather than having to drink the contents of flower vases.

Yet, for all the sensible measures outlined by Mr Hunt, his reform prescription is undone by one glaring oversight. While the Health Secretary emphasised the importance of leadership, the fact that Sir David Nicholson, who presided over the shocking events at Mid-Staffordshire, remains chief executive of the NHS sends out the message that failure – of even the most abject kind – will continue to be tolerated.