I was disturbed this weekend to read an article by Claudia Joseph in the Mail on Sunday about the last few  weeks of her mother’s life. She asks “Why have some nurses stopped caring?”

I will admit that I am biased (I started training as a nurse in 1958), but I think it began when Sisters and Matrons changed their titles and job descriptions and was compounded when they changed from the “apprentice style” training we had, to the university based degree course now considered necessary.

We did three months intensive theoretical training at the Preliminary Training School and then spent the rest of that year on the wards putting the theory into practice, guided by the people experienced in the art of nursing, the Sisters and Staff Nurses! The following two years followed the same pattern, study blocks to learn the theory and a variety of wards to put it into practice, so that at the end of three years we had received a good all round training in all aspects of nursing and had had our confidence built up. After we passed our SRN final exams we did a fourth year as a Staff Nurse before we received our hospital badges and certificates.

We were trained to act professionally and with compassion at all times, however awkward or difficult the patient might be. It was impressed on us at all times that we were privilleged to be entrusted with people’s sick relatives and must never abuse that trust.

The Sisters were very much in evidence on the wards, they gave out medecines, served the meals, and checked on our work as well as being available to the patients and their relatives. I was in hospital a few years ago and the only time I saw the charge nurse was when one of the patients inadvertently pressed the emergency signal and the crash team rushed in!

Fifty years ago Matron or one of her assistant Matrons did a ward round every day and questioned us on aspects of the treatment and woe betide us if a patient was in a wet or dirty bed or in obvious need of attention.  I don’t even know whether  they have a Matron now -I never saw one.

We were all easily identified by variations in our uniforms i.e. 1st year yellow dress, 2nd year lace on the cap, 3rd year blue dress, 4th year black belt and different caps. Sisters and Matron wore navy blue dresses. Ward maids and orderlies wore green overalls. When I was a patient I had no idea whether the people who dealt with me were nurses, cleaners or one of the new ranks with a fancy title.

It was not possible for a patient to be unable to contact a nurse when they needed one because there was always at least one nurse on the ward day and night.

Maybe we were too regimented and some of the rules needed to be relaxed, but at least the patients were cared for and looked after properly.

Maybe one answer would be to have one group of nurses to look after the patients in the old fashioned way and for a new group of those who want to take on procedures which were once in the domain of junior doctors. They would have to think up a new name for themselves though, as another definition of nursing is caring for the sick or infirm. Perhaps this would also solve the problem of which agency (NHS or local authority) should pay for the care of the elderly, since many of the procedures we were taught such as feeding, washing etc no longer qualify as nursing care!

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