Nurse of the 90s

Sunday, 27 July 2014

Listening to Mary Hopkin's 'Those Were The Days' on Chris Evans' Breakfast Show while on the school run I was dissappointed that he didn't embrace the concept. Is it a symptom of middle age to love reminiscing? More than aware of the risk to view what's past through rose coloured spectacles and accepting life has to evolve, not all things change for the better.

One of my proudest moments was qualifying as a nurse in the 1990s and the job is almost unrecognisable twenty years on.

Poor Florence Nightingale would be well and truly out of her depth: she would be beside herself with all the form filling, box ticking and target reaching whilst remembering to cover her back from a medico legal aspect.

Very few people would have their brows mopped and I doubt she'd even have time to light her lamp.

Times have changed though and in a big organisation like the NHS understandably risks need to be assessed and patients kept safe especially as nurses undertake a more technical role due to medical advancement. Have we become too risk averse? Absolutely, the balance has tipped and it needs to be redressed.

Nurses need to get back to nursing, find their voice, stand up for their patients and themselves.

The teaching hospital I trained at staffed its surgical wards with three nurses to eight patients, usually a qualified nurse, a third year student and a first year student in a time when demand was much lower.

These staffing levels enabled us to not only provide quality nursing care but support patients and their families on an emotional level. If a patient was upset, anxious or even just fed up we had time to talk to them, reassure them and develop a trusting therapeutic relationship. Patients told us their stories and we told them ours - we got to know each other. There was a lot of laughter and tears, working as a team and true camaraderie.

I loved the weekends when there were no theatre lists and we had more time to do the little jobs that made a big difference. We'd put people in the bath and let them have a soak, paint their nails and given a bag of rollers I thought I was Vidal Sassoon.

So what's gone wrong? A big shift in attitude occurred when patients became clients. You can't run a public service like a business, 'people' create too many variables because we are diverse, as are our needs. An ever growing elderly population with complex medical needs has increased demand to a point where the system has reached breaking point. Coupled with historical underfunding and understaffing it's a recipe for disaster.

So what's the answer? The bottom line is pay more or expect less.

Despite what the government and media portray, nurses haven't become 'nasty' or 'uncaring'. We're just overworked, under immense pressure and in the current economic climate, underpaid.

I won't lie - morale is low, but we endeavour to do the best for our patients.

I feel fortunate that I have many colleagues I admire and would feel privelaged to have look after me or my family, should they need it. They regularly go above and beyond what is required of them, miss meal breaks and 'get off late' because they don't want to let their patients down.

Despite what people think they do care and often go home upset or worried. They daily see life and death, people's highs and lows and reach out to them because it's more than a job it's a vocation and they are real people too.

When I qualified as a nurse I was presented with a badge particular to my hospital, it is known as 'the penny'. It has a depiction engraved in the bronze of the 'Good Samaritan' and is inscribed in Latin 'VADE ET TU FAC SIMILATER'. Roughly translated it means, 'go and do likewise'. On the same day we were presented with it, the speaker advised us that 'as nurses you are the patient's advocate'. These two sentiments are something I have carried close to my heart throughout my nursing career and are why twenty years on I'm still doing the job.