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

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

Sauce Recruitment: Retail Planning Manager - Home Entertainment UK

salary equal to £40K pro-rata: Sauce Recruitment: Are you available to start a...

Ashdown Group: Front-End Developer - London - up to £40,000

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Creative Front-End Developer - Claph...

Recruitment Genius: Product Quality Assurance Technologist - Hardline & Electric

£18000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The role in this successful eco...

Ashdown Group: QA Tester - London - £30,000

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: QA Tester - London - £30,000 QA Tes...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

CPAC 2015: What I learnt from the US — and what the US could learn from Ukip

Nigel Farage
 

If I were Prime Minister: I would create a government that actually reflects its people

Kaliya Franklin
HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

Time to play God

Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

MacGyver returns, but with a difference

Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

Tunnel renaissance

Why cities are hiding roads underground
'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

Boys to men

The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

Crufts 2015

Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
10 best projectors

How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

Monaco: the making of Wenger

Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

Homage or plagiarism?

'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower