Back in 2001, when Tony Blair was Prime Minister, I was invited to talk to him about the National Health Service. At that time, he was particularly exercised about reforming the NHS.
Sitting on the Downing Street sofa, I told him that the experience of my frail and elderly mother had left me shocked and aghast.
My mother, who suffered from multiple sclerosis and Parkinson’s disease, had been hospitalised after a fall had fractured her hip. What appalled me was the lack of nursing care she received.
Not only was she addressed discourteously, there was also precious little attempt to ease her acute discomfort or attend to her basic needs. Despite the fact that she could barely move at all in her bed, she was not helped into more comfortable positions.
they illustrate instead … the replacement of altruism by indifference, and compassion by cruelty
Much worse, her food was left inaccessibly out of her reach. Had my father and I not been at hand to retrieve the situation, she would have gone hungry and thirsty.
Worse still, she told me she was too frightened to say anything because she was certain the nurses were already punishing her for making ‘too much of a fuss’. […]
In hospitals where essential standards were not met, inspectors found that patients’ call bells had been placed out of reach or were not responded to quickly enough, or staff were talking to patients in a condescending or dismissive way. […]
These horrifying revelations do not signify merely incompetence nor — that perennial excuse — the effect of ‘the cuts’.
nursing has been all but engulfed by a fundamental moral crisis
No, they illustrate instead something infinitely grimmer: the replacement of altruism by indifference, and compassion by cruelty.
We’re looking here at nothing less than the crumbling of a sense of common humanity. And that is because nursing has been all but engulfed by a fundamental moral crisis.
Nursing is not a job but a vocation. That means it is governed by a sense of duty to the patient, rather than any self-interest.
presumption of care has been systematically eroded — by modern feminism
Of course, it must be said there are still many dedicated nurses caring magnificently for their patients. But, in general, the presumption of care has been systematically eroded — by modern feminism. […]
For during the Eighties, nursing underwent a revolution. Under the influence of feminist thinking, its leaders decided that ‘caring’ was demeaning because it meant that nurses — who were overwhelmingly women — were treated like skivvies by doctors, who were mostly men. […]
That prescient warning has been ignored by the modern nursing establishment. To achieve professional equality with doctors, nurse training was taken away from the hospitals and turned into an academic university subject.
Since caring for patients was demeaning to women, it could no longer be the cardinal principle of nursing. Instead, the primary goal became to realise the potential of the nurse to achieve equality with men. […]
nursing ditched its core vocation to care
In an important book on the nursing profession, Ann Bradshaw, a specialist in palliative care, described how this agenda removed caring, kindness, compassion and dedication from nurse training.
Student nurses now studied sociology, politics, psychology, microbiology and management, and were assessed for their communication, management and analytical skills. ‘Specific clinical nursing skills were not mentioned,’ she wrote.
the decline in kindness and sympathy was linked to the decline in religious observance
In short, nursing ditched its core vocation to care. Bedbaths and feeding those who are helpless are tasks vital to the care of patients — but are now considered beneath the dignity of too many nurses. […]
Dame Joan was much nearer the mark when she observed that the decline in kindness and sympathy was linked to the decline in religious observance. In other words, the crisis in nursing is part of a far broader and deeper spiritual malaise.
Duty to others and respect for the innate humanity of every person have been eroded by the ‘me society’ of ruthless, self-centred individualism. […]
Follow-up post with responses from professional nurses etc: The moral crisis in nursing: voices from the wards