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Last Updated: Monday, 10 May, 2004, 17:07 GMT 18:07 UK
Nurses cannot be too posh to wash
Some nurses spurn menial tasks
Nurses have rejected the notion that they are 'too posh to wash'.

The Royal College of Nursing voted against a proposal to devolve the caring component of nursing to health care assistants.

Delegates agreed caring jobs, such as washing patients and rearranging their flowers, were important responsibilities to retain.

However, the annual conference in Harrogate heard how some new generation nurses shied away from basic tasks.

Jeremy Bore, a prison nurse in Exeter, told the conference: "We are seeing a small minority, but none the less a significant minority of new generation nurses coming in who are saying they don't want to do basic essential care - washing people's feet, washing people's backsides, keeping their mouths clean and fresh when they are not able to do that for themselves.

"Nursing has got to be a profession where every registered nurse cares holistically and completely for their patient."

Special bond

He said although such tasks and skills are very easy to learn, the broader implications of the close relationship between the nurse and the patient - based on trust and understanding - were very important.

"Nurses have been authorised to go where no other professional has every been authorised to go - not even doctors, not even priests - and that is an enormous privilege."

He said these minority of nurses had to get to grips with the concept that doing this type of work is a privilege.

"I had a 10 minute debate with a student nurse who said 'I do not to wash people's bottoms, there are other people to do that.'

"If I become too posh to wash, I should no longer be in the profession," he said.

Dr Beverly Malone said that these nurses had missed the whole point of nursing.

"We are doing more than that. We are assessing the patient, we are doing holistic care, we are checking their emotional state.

"Nurses have got to be clear that we are still the ones who are ultimately responsible and we are always available to do those things that need to be done for patients.

"I don't know how you can talk about caring and nursing. It's the same thing. Nursing to me is caring."


Dr Malone suggested stereotyping might be partly to blame for the too posh to wash culture.

She said the more 'menial' tasks were often seen as women's work.

"Sometimes we forget that nursing is still predominantly a female specialism and all the stereotypes of women's work are all tied up with nursing."

Mr Bore hinted nurses might be passing on the tasks because of time pressures.

But he warned that by delegating the more 'menial' tasks, the nurse misses important opportunities to pick up on "vital little snippets of information" key to diagnosis.

He said: "If we are not there to pick that up, and if we are stupid enough to hire off a whole of those areas of activities to people who haven't got the levels of skill and understanding, we are going to lose an enormous amount of patient contact and therefore patient communication."

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