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Last Updated: Sunday, 4 December 2005, 21:30 GMT
Undercover Nurse's legacy

Margaret Haywood
Undercover nurse
Wednesday 20 July 2005
In July 2005 one nurse put her professional life on the line and, using a hidden camera, exposed a scandal in care for the elderly on one ward at the Royal Sussex County Hospital, Brighton.

Dr Beverly Malone, the President Royal College of Nurses, was among those who have condemned what the programme revealed:

"I thought it was totally unacceptable behaviour, unprofessional behaviour from nurses - no excuses."

The Royal Sussex is not alone. After the programme hundreds of viewers contacted us with similar stories about poor standards of care for the elderly in hospitals across the country.

Some emails came from doctors and nurses, most of whom were concerned enough for their jobs not to want to be identified. Ian Brown, a nurse, was just one of those who phoned or emailed Panorama:

"It's a nationwide problem. And I've worked in lots of hospitals and I've seen that problem in just about every hospital that I've worked."

According to him, nurses may be better qualified then ever but some seem to have lost sight of the basics:

"They don't see that giving them enough to eat and drink is a priority. That's not a nursing role. That's really the job of an underclass of nurse, if you like."

"They're there to do clinical observations or do paperwork. So it's not just the actual skills, it's an attitude problem; a complete lack of compassion towards the vulnerable people in the hospital bed."

Some of the doctors and nurses who contacted Panorama believe that degree courses and higher technical qualifications have given some nurses airs and graces and they have become "too posh to wash". as the saying goes.

Dr Beverly Malone, President of the RCN, disagrees:

"For people who say that nurses are too posh to wash, it's totally ridiculous, it makes no sense to me at all, it's not nursing. Nursing is about making sure that we give the care that patients need to heal, that means that we're not ever too posh to wash."

Changes in Brighton

The Royal Sussex County Hospital have told us they are now investigating three members of staff. They have also appointed nurses to champion the care of the elderly.

But this problem may take more than a bit of discipline to fix. Prof Ian Philp, National Clinical Director for Older People's Health, argues that it is not just a question for nurses:

"Given that 67% plus of people in an acute hospital bed are frail old people, it's everybody's business to understand that older people are core business, it's not as though older people are getting in the way of us doing the job, older people are the job."

With our ageing population that "core business" is set to grow. The nurse's regulatory body want to see individual nurses displaying higher standards of basic nursing skills that have been proven to experienced nurses on the wards. J Asbridge, President of the Nursery and Midwifery Council;

"...What we felt was missing was evidence that the individual nurse, not only has the academic and the theoretical qualifications and knowledge but actually has a transparent set of clinical skills that have been not just been signed off by the academic institution but have been signed off by experienced nurses in practice."


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