That’s not to say some, maybe most, nurses aren’t. I particularly remember one who held my hand throughout an uncomfortable 2-hour eye operation carried out under local anaesthetic and another who rubbed my back during an endoscopy examination.
But according to a recent study of professional values there is “a moral vacuum at the heart of nursing”.
Nurses are so ground down that they end up as “robots going through the motions” with a focus on clinical skills driving compassion from the job“. Yet compassion is part of the UK’s Nursing Vision.
Eight out of ten say their work conflicts with their personal values much of the time. The study concluded that it was that moral disengagement that leads to patients being put at risk.
Kristen Kristjansson, the psychologist from the University of Birmingham who led the study, said that the state of nursing was far more depressing than any other profession he had studied including lawyers, teachers, and doctors.
He added “When you have been working for five years or more you usually realise that following the rules is not the only important thing. You have to rely on your moral compass” But the nurses didn’t.
In the study of 700 nurses almost half of them sad they acted the way they did because it was what the rules decreed rather than because it was the right thing to do.
The only standard was what was laid down in the codes. Unlike other professions they did;t seem to pick up on their own values as they got more experienced.
This is bad news for patients who can tell when someone is going through the motions. The nurses say they don’t have time to show care and compassion and often come away from patients feeling they could have done more.
Professor Kristjansson worries that this “Mr Spock” mentality means they could struggle in a morally stressful situation such as happened at Mid Staffs where few nurses felt able to speak out about patient neglect.
He thought it was positive that nurses were now seen as a professionals requiring degree-level skills rather than just as assistants to doctors but felt the pendulum had swung too much the other way, away from the ethical core of nursing. Nurses since Florence Nightingale had done more than administer medicines – they created an ethos in hospitals to put patients at ease.
Sir Robert Francis QC, who chaired the public inquiry into the Mid Staffs scandal, backed up the Professor’s calls for more emphasis on virtue and character in nurses’ training.
“A commonly accepted set of values has to be the foundation of professional practice to enable those with this vocation to navigate the ethical dilemmas they face daily”.
Janet Davies, chief executive of the Royal College of Nursing, said the report “demonstrates the emotional pressure on caring professions who, when faced with an inability to work as they know they should, become compromised”.
It’s almost five years since they decided to overhaul the training of health care assistants and introduced compassion as on of the 6Cs of nursing care (see post). Other research has shown compassion is a key characteristic of the best carers and there are questions about whether or not a degree is really necessary?
It seems like we continually re-invent the wheel as far as nursing is concerned
The way things are going we will have fewer whistleblowers (not that the NHS has a good reputation for the way they treat such people) and the only way to wake people up will be another crisis.