Nurses: if a degree means that much to your self-esteem why not become a doctor?

So you’re lying in a hospital bed flecked with the blood of its previous occupant, your bedpan’s piled higher than the Leaning Tower of Pisa, your saline drip needed changing five hours ago, and in the bed next to you a gang of men with dish-dashes and beards is trying to throttle a wounded young squaddie back from Afghanistan.

You press the call button for the 7928th time, and there at last she is, in her mortarboard and BSc gown.

“Nurse,” you gasp. “You couldn’t just…”

“Haemoglobin?” she says.

“What?” you say.

“I was guessing the answer’s haemoglobin. Isn’t it? Give me a b) c) and c) option and I’ll get it right this time, I promise. You see at the University of Greater London [formerly Neasden Poly] we do all our degree courses by multiple choice.”

Nurses: the rule is that whenever you write anything critical about them you first have to say what angels they are and how it’s outrageous it is that they aren’t paid at least as much as hedge fund managers and how they’re the backbone of the NHS. And they, are, many of them, and I agree that in a perfect world that they should be paid more. Good, now I’ve said that, can we cut to the chase?

It doesn’t matter a jot whether or not nurses have degrees.

First, degrees these days are Mickey Mouse things anyway, often taught by very thick people at useless ‘universities’ far more interested in grabbing the money than in instilling academic excellence.

Second, even if degrees did have any intellectual merit, nurses shouldn’t be wasting their time doing them. Not because all nurses are incredibly stupid but because nursing isn’t that kind of a profession. Nursing is – or should be – a vocation for people who want to get closely involved with the care of patients. People who aren’t too grand to change a bedpan or make sure that the patient isn’t thirsty. People so selfless that they’re not bothered by their low pay or the fact that they can’t swan round in white coats with clipboards like doctors or the routine horror and tedium of having to deal with sick, frightened, grumpy or bewildered patients in any number of revoltingly intimate ways. Why? Because that’s what nursing’s about. And why it truly is one of the world’s noblest callings: it’s for people who put the needs of others before themselves.

Raymond Tallis, who as a doctor has worked with nurses for 35 years, understands exactly why the government’s new all-nurses-shall-have-degrees policy is a nonsense.

The emphasis on the academic aspects of nursing, rather than practical skills and the deeply humane activity of hands-on care, may constitute a kind of “dumbing up”. Focusing on more abstract and theoretical issues, which a degree course, as opposed to vocational training, would require, might diminish the commitment to basic nursing — a fear captured in the much used phrase: “too posh to wash”. This is dangerous, particularly at a time when such care is undervalued — though not by those who receive it. One could be forgiven for thinking that the rewards and prestige of nursing rise in proportion to the distance from the bedside.

In the Spectator, good old Mel Phillips sees it as yet further evidence of insane political correctness:

For many years now, nursing has been in the grip of an ultra-feminist orthodoxy which regards the essence of nursing – caring for patients’ most basic needs – as demeaning to women. The perception that nurses were the mere ‘handmaidens’ of the doctors, who were perceived to be overwhelmingly male, led to an academic approach to nursing which sought to give nurses a social and intellectual status equivalent to that of the medical profession.

There will be those, of course, who see this as yet further proof of how shrill and uncaring and incredibly right wing Melanie Phillips is. Which is certainly much easier than facing the truth, which is that Mel is right. As she puts it:

Under the mind-bending camouflage of ‘progressive ‘ideology Britain is going backwards into a pre-modern, unenlightened, crueller age.

Mel quotes a superb – and monstrously depressing – piece that Harriet Sergeant wrote on NHS nursing in the Telegraph.

A consultant anaesthetist at a London teaching hospital complained of patients arriving for operations with bed sores. On ward rounds, he frequently found himself helping patients to eat. ‘The catering staff slam the food down. No one bothers. Spooning food into a patient is just too demeaning for professional nurses, it seems. I always thought nurses were meant to care for patients. I might be wrong. I may have missed the plot somewhere.’ Another described the difficulty of trying to find a particular patient on a ward. Every patient is supposed to have his name above the bed. But, in some hospitals, they refuse to display the name ‘in case it infringes your autonomy’. So the consultant found himself wandering around, trying to find his patient. ‘There never seems to be anyone in charge who knows anything,’ he said. He would try to find the patient’s nurse. Then the patient’s notes. ‘I don’t often strike lucky with all three.’ Finally, he had to translate the nurses’ diagnoses. ‘They refuse to use hierarchical, male-dominated medical terms, so they will not say the patient is unconscious. No, the patient has to have ‘an altered state of awareness’.

That article was written in 2003. And just see what improvements that shocking article effected. Not.

Things are going to get a lot worse before they get better. A comforting thought, eh, as we all grow older and in increasingly likely need of the loving care of our new “too posh to wash” generation of egg-head super-nurses.