Challenges facing Nursing

Matt McLaughlin says Think NHS Scotland – Think Nurses

Let’s face it, everyone loves nurses. Whether it’s a photograph of nurses on a 1980’s picket line or imagery of a modern nurse, in a clinical environment, for many Scots if we are thinking about the NHS we think about nurses.

The last few months have been tougher than usual on Scotland Nurses. As the reality of budget cuts and short staffing began to bite over the winter, the service struggled to cope. Media sources were filled with horrific stories of service failure and the governments top men and women were spinning all over the place trying to convince us all that they were “managing” the seasonal upturns “effectively”.

Of course good news doesn’t sell papers so stories of nurses and midwives pulling double shifts to make sure that patient in their ward wasn’t compromised, or the thousands, maybe hundreds of thousands of instances where a nurse, midwife or nursing assistant went the extra mile for a patient are and will remain unreported.

The challenge for Scotland nurses is not however one of image or confidence. The real challenge is openness. Not for nurses, the profession and its membership are very open and honest about the challenges that they face. Survey after survey of Scotland’s nurses identifies major concerns every time they are undertaken. On the other hand politicians and decision makers continue to promote a version of reality that seems alien to our members and now it seems many patients.

UNISON wouldn’t go as far as to say that the NHS is in crisis, but it is under pressure and it needs urgent and open action soon.

The service simply can’t go on pretending that there is not a problem. Successive surveys into nursing attitude and staffing levels have found that across the UK – never mind Scotland, nurses are worried about staffing levels. Indeed a UNISON survey in 2012 found that less the 10% of respondents felt that they were always able to deliver safe and companionate care.

Results of a recent Nursing Times survey (UK), supported an earlier UNISON survey carried out in 2009 in NHSGGC. The latest survey found that whilst 73% of respondents had completed an ‘incident form’ (to record a professional concern) only 24% ever received feedback from their manager or higher up.
Despite these and other surveys, nursing seems to remain fixed in a downward spiral. Everyone wants to talk about nursing, everyone wants their photograph taken with a nurse but no seems prepared to listen and even if they do look like they are listening – practical action seems a step too far!

There are a number of issues, big ticket issues in our NHS which will without doubt affect nursing, the profession and organisations like UNISON will without doubt steer a patch through them. However as we stand at this point in time, arguably the major challenge for nursing is not one of clinical direction or policy, but rather one of image and the major risks that are associated with continuing to be a political football.

To politicians and policy makers the message is simple. The cost of relying on nurses to support your latest political headline, is support for nurses and the NHS. Stop using the nurses as a political tool, and start listen to the service and develop policies and initiatives which support nurses and the wider NHS team.

Matt McLaughlin is the Secretary of UNISON Scotland’s Nursing Sector Committee

From Healthier Scotland: the Journal