Supernurses aren't what we need

Share
Related Topics
WHO WANTS to be a nurse? Not enough people any more, according to official figures. There is an alarming total of 8,000 nursing vacancies in the NHS, largely blamed on the disillusionment of trained staff who are leaving, fed up with poor pay and long hours. But even more worrying is that last year, for the first time, there was a shortfall of trainees.

The solution announced last week by the Prime Minister, and apparently welcomed by the Royal College of Nursing, is the creation of a new kind of nurse: the supernurse or nurse consultant. Forget bedpans and making beds with "hospital corners". This new executive will run clinics, be in charge of nursing teams and earn more than pounds 26,500 a year.

Mr Blair promoted his plan as a way of enabling nurses to take more responsibility while remaining close to patients and to earn as much as a junior doctor. That, said the approving RCN, is exactly what the nurses want. And therein lies the dilemma: what they want, what is good for them, is not necessarily good for their patients.

The odds seem stacked against recovery when one visits a hospital today. The staff are stressed, the queues are long, the place is anonymous. People complain of poor food lacking in nutrition, dirty bathrooms, and an emphasis on technology rather than care. In situations like that, a supernurse at the top of her profession is not a reassuring figure. We need nurses to be people we can talk to; staff with time, energy and commitment. We don't need nurses who want to sweep traditional nursing aside for pseudo- doctoring.

What is happening in the nursing profession is symptomatic of the growing conflict in many areas of work between those who do the job and the rest of us at the receiving end. They aspire to convert a traditional, unadventurous job into something more glamorous, more 21st-century, but the rest of us rarely want change if it alters the jobs of those we have come to rely upon.

The divergence between what the professional wants from his career and the needs that the rest of us want them to fulfil is evident in that most undramatic of places, the municipal library. Once, the silent stacks were policed by worthy women in pearls, whose greatest excitement was spotting errors in the cataloguing system. Not any more. This month, the Library and Information Commission will report back to the Culture Secretary on how best to spend pounds 50m allocated for a national network of digitalised information. The need for such a network was outlined in the working party's earlier study which went by the impeccably Blairite title, New Library: The People's Network.

Today's librarians shiver with excitement at the thought of row upon row of screens with young people surfing the Net. Books, by contrast, get short shrift. We might want long, convenient opening hours and a plentiful supply of fiction from a public library, but most of them are restricting their hours and spending little on books.

In the past 10 years, the book stock of Britain's 4,000 municipal libraries has shrunk by 10 million volumes. Sheffield council, for example, bought no books last year; Somerset council is only buying fiction again after being warned that it was contravening the law.

How much more radical it would be for the Culture Secretary and the Prime Minister, rather than stressing the need to create supernurses and information technicians, to stress human skills. Those of us who have had to endure the attentions of nurses and librarians would welcome it. Hike up their pay, not because they have to be masters of technological wizardry but because in future we should demand far more of them.

For too long we have believed in the myth of the lady with the lamp and the caring professions. The truth is that many of them were never caring enough. Ask anyone who has been in a hospital in recent years and they will tell you of nurses who are contemptuous of patients, treat them as a nuisance, and are so busy that the sick and distressed are too anxious to ask for help.

It is no coincidence that these are worlds of work traditionally dominated by women. Nurses and librarians have been badly paid and badly treated for too long, and we should reject any hint of continuing exploitation. That means paying a proper rate for the job and maintaining high standards. But before we rush toward a new world of cold professionalism, has the moment not come to urge the career nurses and the librarians to junk the tag "women's work" but at the same time to feminise their jobs? It is time these careers were imbued with newly valued professional motives: motives such as courtesy and kindness and time. It would transform not only their lives but ours too.

React Now

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped commission: SThree: Does earning a 6 figu...

Recruitment Genius: SEO Executive

£18000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: New Lift Sales Executive - Lift and Elevators

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A challenging opportunity for a...

Recruitment Genius: Customer Service / Receptionist

£14000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Cameron and Miliband went head-to-head in the live televised debate last night  

The Battle for Number 10: Great TV but not an interview for the job of prime minister

Alice Jones
Durham Free School, which has already been ordered to close, has been accused of harbouring  

From creationism and bullying to reading abilities that go backwards, free schools are a complete and utter failure

Tristram Hunt
The saffron censorship that governs India: Why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression

The saffron censorship that governs India

Zareer Masani reveals why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression
Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Supreme Court rules Dominic Grieve's ministerial veto was invalid
Distressed Zayn Malik fans are cutting themselves - how did fandom get so dark?

How did fandom get so dark?

Grief over Zayn Malik's exit from One Direction seemed amusing until stories of mass 'cutting' emerged. Experts tell Gillian Orr the distress is real, and the girls need support
The galaxy collisions that shed light on unseen parallel Universe

The cosmic collisions that have shed light on unseen parallel Universe

Dark matter study gives scientists insight into mystery of space
The Swedes are adding a gender-neutral pronoun to their dictionary

Swedes introduce gender-neutral pronoun

Why, asks Simon Usborne, must English still struggle awkwardly with the likes of 's/he' and 'they'?
Disney's mega money-making formula: 'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan

Disney's mega money-making formula

'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan
Lobster has gone mainstream with supermarket bargains for £10 or less - but is it any good?

Lobster has gone mainstream

Anthea Gerrie, raised on meaty specimens from the waters around Maine, reveals how to cook up an affordable feast
Easter 2015: 14 best decorations

14 best Easter decorations

Get into the Easter spirit with our pick of accessories, ornaments and tableware
Paul Scholes column: Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season

Paul Scholes column

Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season
Inside the Kansas greenhouses where Monsanto is 'playing God' with the future of the planet

The future of GM

The greenhouses where Monsanto 'plays God' with the future of the planet
Britain's mild winters could be numbered: why global warming is leaving UK chillier

Britain's mild winters could be numbered

Gulf Stream is slowing down faster than ever, scientists say
Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Donation brings total raised by Homeless Veterans campaign to at least £1.25m
Oh dear, the most borrowed book at Bank of England library doesn't inspire confidence

The most borrowed book at Bank of England library? Oh dear

The book's fifth edition is used for Edexcel exams
Cowslips vs honeysuckle: The hunt for the UK’s favourite wildflower

Cowslips vs honeysuckle

It's the hunt for UK’s favourite wildflower
Child abuse scandal: Did a botched blackmail attempt by South African intelligence help Cyril Smith escape justice?

Did a botched blackmail attempt help Cyril Smith escape justice?

A fresh twist reveals the Liberal MP was targeted by the notorious South African intelligence agency Boss