Tuesday, October 04, 2011


How is it possible that NHS spending has tripled over the last ten years and yet nurses are so over-stretched they can’t help to feed their patients?

The Government pours billions into the ever-open mouth of the health service – yet its staff are so rushed off their feet they can’t spoon food across the parched lips of the elderly and infirm.

Some nurses think of themselves as too qualified to care. The problem is they have degrees and they have spent hours in classrooms and lecture theatres.

They learn lots of theory and no doubt get detailed medical instruction but they’re not used to looking after people’s basic bodily needs.

In 2008, Tory Peer Lord Mancroft brought the wrath of the NHS down on his head when he recounted his experiences as a patient at the Royal United Hospital in Bath.

He said it was a miracle he was still alive after his experience of filthy hospital wards.

He went on: “The nurses who looked after me were mostly grubby – we are talking about dirty fingernails and hair – and were slipshod and lazy. Worst of all, they were drunken and promiscuous.

“How do I know that? Because if you’re a patient and you’re lying in a bed, and you’re being nursed from either side, they talk across you as if you’re not there.

“So I know exactly what they got up to the night before, and how much they drank, and I know exactly what they were planning to do the next night, and I can tell you, it’s pretty horrifying.”

Lord Mancroft’s experience may be rare. But Peter Carter, head of the Royal College of Nursing, still thinks nurses have too much work to do.

He plans to extend hospital visiting hours so relatives can feed patients, help them go to the loo and make sure they have something to drink.

One of the reasons for this, he admits, was that newly-qualified nurses were “simply not up to the mark” because they spent too much time in the classroom and not long enough on the wards.

At the same time, Dickon Weir-Hughes, chief executive of the Nursing and Midwifery Council, is complaining that the healthcare assistants who are regularly employed to do the nurses’ dirty work have no qualifications.

Professor Weir-Hughes wants this army of 300,000 people to be required to obtain a qualification – and be segregated from graduate nurses by being forced to wear a different uniform.

This kind of nursing apartheid is inevitable. The last Government encouraged nurses to become over-qualified.

As a result, some of them are not trained or encouraged to deliver the care which most patients assume is at the very heart of their profession.

You can’t blame nurses themselves. Many are wonderful, maintain the very highest standards of care and deserve the old epithet of “angels”.

But the NHS is designed and run for the benefit of its staff, first and foremost. It has been perverted from its original aim of looking after people and is now the most inefficient, indulged and indolent of all the public services.

We spend about £120 billion a year on the health service. The last Government tripled the budget from £37 billion in 1997.

The Coalition has pledged to “ring fence” NHS spending, despite the cuts, though this hasn’t stopped the healthcare industry warning of death and disaster as even they are asked to take greater care over how they spend our money.

Yet NHS productivity hasn’t improved and this is a national scandal no politician dares to address.

The inquiry into the deaths at Stafford Hospital shows day by day how low the NHS has sunk.

It is astonishing that Sir David Nicholson, one-time head of Staffordshire Strategic Health Authority, should now be chief executive of the entire NHS. Nothing succeeds like failure, it seems.

He admitted he appointed the wrong man as chief executive of the hospital where up to 1,200 patients may have died as a result of lack of care and he admitted he had no idea there was any cause for concern.

Lessons, he solemnly declared, would be learned.

They always say that, as if it makes the sacrifice, pain and misery of patients and their families somehow acceptable.

As the vast ranks of “healthcare professionals” manoeuvre in pursuit of pensions, pay and privileges, the long-suffering patient remains an inconvenience best left to someone else.

The nursing profession’s separation from patients was marvellously illustrated by East Kent Hospital where staff went around dispensing drugs while wearing tabards warning patients: “Do not disturb.”

The aim was to prevent nurses being interrupted as they made their rounds handing out pills.

Luckily the outrage this caused has forced an about-turn but even now the nurses will wear notices declaring: “Drug round in progress.”

It’s not quite as rude as the original but it’s still symbolic of how removed from their patients some nurses have become.

We need nurses to offer kindness, care and compassion. Qualifications are all very well but sometimes all a patient needs is a hand to hold and a word of sympathy.

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