Last week, a devastating report detailing what can only be described as the widespread collapse of the ethic of nursing was produced by the Care Quality Commission.
This revealed that more than half of all hospitals in England do not meet standards for the dignity and nutrition of elderly people. One in five hospitals were found to be failing the elderly so badly that they were breaking the law.
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.
In one hospital, inspectors witnessed a patient being made to go to the lavatory in full view of the rest of the ward. In another, doctors had to prescribe water to make sure that patients did not become dehydrated.
These horrifying revelations do not signify merely incompetence nor — that perennial excuse — the effect of ‘the cuts’.
No, they illustrate instead something infinitely grimmer: the replacement of altruism by indifference, and compassion by cruelty.
Florence Nightingale “must now be turning in her grave,” Phillips writes.
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.
To achieve equality, therefore, nursing had to gain the same status as medicine. This directly contradicted an explicit warning given by Florence Nightingale that nurses should steer clear of the ‘jargon’ about the ‘rights’ of women ‘which urges women to do all that men do, including the medical and other professions, merely because men do it, and without regard to whether this is the best that women can do’.
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. (The great irony is that more women than men are now training to be doctors in British medical schools, thus making this ideology out of date.)
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.
Dame Joan Bakewell, the former government-appointed Voice of Older People, has suggested nurses be given ‘empathy training’. But, of course, you can’t train people in compassion.
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.