Veronica Wood writes with dignity and insight about the varying levels of nursing care she received after her hip operation (Letters, 10 October).
Her concerns have been echoed by a friend who entered the nursing profession as a mature student, and they seem to raise two important points.
Firstly, empathy and compassion have been generally undervalued for some time in our society. We applaud “go-getters” and financial entrepreneurs, regardless of whether they treat their fellow humans with kindness and dignity.
The fallout from this has been the trend to demonise vulnerable people on low incomes and welfare benefits and assume they are all “scroungers” and cheats, when all the evidence shows there is a minority who abuse the system.
The survival of the fittest belief has infected all areas of society and even some areas of the health services.
We, as a society, pay those in the caring professions far less than the finance industry, for example, and this reinforces what we think of those who perform these very challenging care jobs.
Nursing used to be, rightly, respected as a highly trained profession, rather than a type of manual labour, and it’s quite likely that nurses have lost respect in their role as a result.
Secondly, it appears nursing students are often accepted for training on the basis of exam results alone, rather than their compassion and concern for others, when clearly both are needed. It is perfectly possible to test for empathy both through psychometric instruments and effective interviewing.
It is interesting that Veronica Wood also mentions the lack of leadership and supervision from senior nurses, and this suggests that in spite of the significant sums the NHS spends on so-called “leadership training”, effective example setting by senior staff is still neither encouraged nor rewarded.
Thankfully, as Veronica suggests, there are still nurses whose dedication and care is faultless, and it is they who should be offered as role models.
(Dr) Mary Brown
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