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Monday, October 26, 1998 Published at 12:38 GMT


Plea for more Nightingales

Florence Nightingale is proposed as a nursing role model

Nurses should be trained to be more like Florence Nightingale if the recruitment crisis in the profession is to be beaten, according to a report.

Dr Myles Harris defends his report on BBC Radio 4's Today programme
The study from the Social Affairs Unit, a British think tank, says that bedside training has been replaced by university lessons.

This puts too much emphasis on status, managerial skills and technical competence with hospital machinery and ignores the basic skills of caring for patients, it says.

The report also says that nurses' traditional role of comforting, feeding and bathing the sick has been replaced by the hospital manager focusing on "cost centres" rather than patient care.

This makes nursing a less attractive profession to new recruits, it says.

Nurses have attacked the report, saying that low pay and poor working conditions are to blame for recruitment problems.

There are currently 8,000 nursing vacancies in the UK, according to the Royal College of Nursing.

Recruitment crisis

Dr Myles Harris, a GP in South London, is a co-author of the report - Come Back Miss Nightingale.

He said: "Patients have never been more in need of the traditional nurse.

"We need to bring back bedside training, the ethos of traditional nursing, that the nurse is there to care for and comfort the sick."

He also attacked a "drive to informality" within the profession. He said that the use of first names and casual clothes was damaging patients' dignity.

"Nurses need to take back their hospitals, their uniforms and their training."

[ image: Christine Hancock:
Christine Hancock: "Nurses worry that patient care is at risk"
Christine Hancock, general secretary of the Royal College of Nursing, attacked the report.

She said: "Just ask nurses what is at the root cause of the nursing crisis.

"It's the shortage of nurses which makes nurses worried that patient care is at risk. It is only because of the dedication of today's nurses, with a third working extra hours, that patients are getting cared for.

"Proper pay for nurses is the immediate way of attracting people into nursing and keeping them there."

Professional changes

Dr Harris said the trend away from "nursing fundamentals" began in the 1970s.

He said: "In the 1970s nursing leaders became obsessed with the idea of status.

[ image: The report says nurse training focuses too much on management]
The report says nurse training focuses too much on management
"They were extremely worried about the possibility of a fall in the number of recruits, especially as a lot of women were going for medicine.

"They thought they must do something about this so they emphasised the idea that nursing should become a high-status, managerial sort of profession.

"It led them away from what is a fundamental definition of nursing."

But Renee Francis, a nurse in south London, said that nurses were simply expanding their range of skills to cope with the modern health service.

"Nurses go into nursing because they want to work with people," she told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

Dr Harris's definition of nursing was limited, and being a nurse involved far more than "doing things for the sick", she said.

She added: "If Miss Nightingale were to come back today she would actually be really pleased with the way nurse education is going.

"We need to remember that Florence Nightingale herself was really progressive in terms of what she was doing."

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