Thursday, 7 February 2013

Nurses, Care and Compassion

There's been a lot in the news about nurses and the National Heath and how caring for people seems to have left the system. I've just watched yet another discussion on telly blaming it all on "form filling' and "workload". I won't claim to be an expert on nursing practice but in the last 12 years I've had four operations in hospital and both my parents died in hospital. I've seen nurses and nursing assistants up close.

I'm terribly lucky to live in a country that has the National Health Service and I have quality health care as a right. I've certainly had my share of medical support in the last decade and it's not just the operations it's the follow-up support and treatment, the physiotherapy and the medication. Yes, I am very lucky. On the other hand, I've paid for it through taxes over the last 30-odd years.

I've seen good nurses and I've seen mediocre and unthinking nurses. More of the latter, sadly, but at least I've not seen any 'bad' nursing of the kind that's hit the news. In my experience it's not about "form filling" or "workload" or lack of role models or whatever excuses are offered - why do you need a role model to take a glass of water to someone who's thirsty? Something has changed in nursing, medicine and care and I don't now what it is.

A memory of nursing that stands out is when I was bedridden in hospital for a week after an operation for a slipped disc that could've gone better. One day I was being given a bed bath by, I think, two nursing assistants when the curtains around my bed were opened and two other nursing assistants came in, leaving the curtains open and started chatting about what had happened at a party the previous weekend.

After a minute or so of seeing other people walk past the open curtains while they chatted I said 'Excuse me' - that's all but it was enough. I could see the sudden realisation of what they'd been doing flit across the faces of the two interlopers as they realised there was a real person in the bed that could both see and hear what was being said. They didn't quite blush but apologised and left, closing the curtains. Having interrupted their chat, the two nursing assistants finished off the bed bath in a rather perfunctory manner, pulled the curtains back and went off to finish their chat.

That's hardly an earth-shattering experience and didn't lead to me dying in hospital through dehydration but it's symptomatic of a system not working quite right. At that point in time, those four nursing assistants wanted to chat about a party rather than do their job. "Form filling" wasn't involved and they weren't over-worked or stressed since they had time to chat and laugh while a patient was having a bed bath. It may come as a surprise to some of you but bed baths aren't something most people are brought up to consider normal. They're not terribly stressful but it's not normal. And I'd rather not have an audience, thank you.

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