The Apprentice

Much bruhaha about nursing and nurses is flying around in the Twittersphere at the moment.

What’s happening?

  • Some believe that a degree in nursing is the only safe way forward because ‘ordinary’ nurses may not know “how to access/interpret/implement research”. I didn’t make that bit up – someone actually put that in a Tweet to me. Perhaps they haven’t realised it yet, but nurses managed to nurse – and quite well actually – before the concept of a degree in nursing was even born
  • Organisations are exploring ways to fill nurse vacancies, and unfortunately it seems to be with the ‘cheaper alternatives’ such as nurse associates
  • The sensible folk are exploring alternative (to the degree) routes into a nursing career

I suspect that when it all comes out in the wash, what we will have is a raft of clinicians who have a variety of knowledge, skills and education, all of whom will be happily delivering care at a level they are content with. Perhaps more importanly, they will be delivering the care and compassion that our patients want.

All our yesterdays

Given that nursing is changing, some may say into a role that is not actually nursing, it is perhaps timely to remind ourselves why being a student of the ‘apprentice’ style training (circa 1930-1983), wasn’t so bad. According to tales from those that have gone before us, it was damned hard work, the hours were long, the days off were few, the ward Sisters/Charge Nurses, but mostly Matrons, were tartars whose sole job it was to make your life a misery, you couldn’t get married if you were still training and if as a staff nurse you married, you were immediately put on a 3-month stint of nights, equipment breakages were paid for out of your meagre salary and.. well, the list goes on. But there were good times too:

  1. Working split shifts for 6 and a half days in a row, trying to attend lectures in between shifts/sleep, and having only one full day off a month never did me any harm.
  2. Being part of the rostered workforce while on placement made you feel part of a team (despite as a first year student, being so low down the pecking order that you had to clean the sluice all day, every day for the first 6 weeks, after which you were promoted to bottle/bedpan rounds, and it was only half-way through your second year you actually realised that those people in beds who stared at you whilst you walked down the ward were patients).
  3. You trained at one hospital – ‘your’ hospital. Over your three years of training, you came to know its hospital’s  culture, staff and foibles. You were fiercely proud of it. And you probably still are, even it is now a block of flats for people with Shoreditch Beards and trendy shoes….
  4. …which K-Skips weren’t
  5. When you passed your SRN (State Registered Nurse) exam you recieved a length of Petersham and a silver buckle (the former from the hospital, the latter from your proud parents/grandparents/dog) to signify that you were indeed a staff nurse and thus capable of running a ward. It also meant that it was compulsory for you to take your coffee/tea break in the ward office with Sister and the other staff nurses. All at the same time. Whether you wanted to or not. No more stuffing doughnuts in the staff canteen.
  6. After 6-12 months, were given a hospital badge and in some cases, promoted to Senior Staff Nurse. By this time, Sister will have grudgingly admited that “You may make a half-way decent nurse after all”
  7. Such trifles (3-6) always broke the ice at conferences – ‘I trained there too, what set were you in, do you remember Sister Snapdragon?’, and allowed parents/grandparents the opportunity to boast about you to whoever stood still enough to listen.
  8. The fact that it was compulsory to live in the nurses home ensured that our moral welfare was never in danger, that the home sister would come marching into our rooms each morning [or evening in the night nurses wing] to make sure we weren’t late for work, and that being allowed an 11pm ‘late-pass’ was a privilege often rescinded because of some minor misdemeanour such as breaking a thermometer)
  9. The uniforms were fabulous despite having to spend 2 hours trying to change your half-moon shaped piece of linen into something resembling the Taj Mahal.
  10. …K-Skips.
  11. You learnt about the process of turning raw sewerage into fresh water (the visit to the treatment plant being the highlight of year 1) and the journey of a cheese sandwich from teeth to… well, the other end, and can still recite the physiological processes involved.
  12. You learnt to make a bed; importantly, the type of ‘hospital corner’ used took on a Masonic significance as often they indicated the hospital you trained in. And you still make you own bed using those corners (unless you use fitted sheets of course – clearly not designed by a nurse)
  13. You learnt how to cook bland meals for those with ‘gastric ulcers’ and how to boil 40 eggs for the breakfasts at 4.30am because after that you had to start getting patients up, and do the drugs round, and clean the sluice before Sister came on duty. Some learnt the art of buttering mounds of bread and covering with sheets of damp kitchen paper in an attempt to keep them fresh. These lucky few have gone on to have second careers in cricket teas after retirement from nursing.
  14. You learnt that while it appeared that Sister was fulfilling every wish of the consultants, actually what she was doing was skilfully managing them while letting them think they were in charge. And when she discussed clinical matters, she held her own because she knew her patients and their conditions inside out, and so was respected, whether she had a degree or not.

However, what is shiningly obvious is that on the whole, we loved it. And perhaps we don’t want it to change because it was fun. You got to  know your patients well. You were part of a caring team and when it all went well, it was great, but when it went a bit wrong, you had the support required. And really, so what if you were shouted out by the night sister because your cap had fallen off during a resuscitation and ‘you don’t look very professional’? You just moaned about her over a snatched coffee and swapped the Cadbury’s for some Elax… (not really)

+Actually, the sewerage plant I visited has been converted into trendy flats…

Flogging a Dead Horse

The NHS is going through what some say is a most diffficult time

That may be putting it mildly!

We may have to learn a lesson or two from the Dakota Indians…

As many variations of these pearls of wisdom are available, I cannot credit this particular version to anyone. But I am eternally grateful for the laughs it produced!

The tribal wisdom of the Dakota Indians, passed down from generation to generation, says that when you discover that you are riding a dead horse, the best strategy is to dismount.

In the NHS, however, a whole range of far more advanced strategies is often employed, such as:

  1. Change riders
  2. Buy a stronger whip
  3. Do nothing: “This is the way we have always ridden dead horses”
  4. Visit other countries to see how they ride dead horses
  5. Perform a productivity study to see if lighter riders improve the dead horse’s performance
  6. Hire a contractor to ride the dead horse
  7. Harness several dead horses together in an attempt to increase the speed
  8. Provide additional funding and/or training to increase the dead horse’s performance
  9. Appoint a committee to study the horse and assess how dead it actually is
  10. Re-classify the dead horse as “living-impaired”
  11. Develop a Strategic Plan for the management of dead horses
  12. Rewrite the expected performance requirements for all horses
  13. Modify existing standards to include dead horses
  14. Declare that, as the dead horse does not have to be fed, it is less  costly, carries lower overheads, and therefore contributes substantially  more to the bottom line than many other horses
  15. Promote the dead horse to a supervisory position

Is there anybody there…?

On the 9th January, Theresa May gave a lecture at the Charity Commission

During this speech, she announced a package of measures to transform mental health support in our schools, workplaces and communities. The gist of the content can be found here: https://www.gov.uk/government/news/prime-minister-unveils-plans-to-transform-mental-health-support

One in 4 people has a common mental disorder at any one time; the economic and social cost is £105 billion. But how it affects family, friends and carers is incalculable, as Ms May suggests:

“For too long mental illness has been something of a hidden injustice in our country, shrouded in a completely unacceptable stigma and dangerously disregarded as a secondary issue to physical health. Yet left unaddressed, it destroys lives, it separates people from each other and deepens the divisions within our society. Changing this goes right to the heart of our humanity; to the heart of the kind of country we are, the values we share, the attitudes we hold and our determination to come together and support each other.”

I admit that while I was nursing, mental health was never my thing. I absolutely believe that those who work in mental health are born not made – I have witnessed some fantastic nurses care for those with MH problems in a way that defies any kind of template.

As a student nurse, I spent most of my psychy secondment locked in a cupboard – not because I was scared of the patients, just because the staff on that particular ward were either burnt-out or bored and therefore required entertaining. They didn’t interact with the patients, but neither did they help the General student nurses on secondment; after all, we were only going to be there for 8 weeks, so were only good for dealing with ‘nursing’ things such as wounds and personal hygiene.

Consequently, I have to be honest and say that I know almost as little about management of MH now as I did then, and largely put it to the back of my mind.

But that changed last Sunday. A friend and I had been for our usual Sunday morning constitutional and were looking forward to coffee and breakfast (and more coffee) in a local cafe. It was about 10.00, there were about 10-12 other people in cafe. On the table next to us was a half-finished coffee, glass of orange juice, pair of sunglasses, and a coat was spread across the benchseat.

We had been there about 10 minutes, when one of the people on the table next to that with the detritus, said out loud ‘Do you think she is OK?’ ‘Who?’ we asked, ‘That lady lying there’ came the reply. What we had taken for a coat casually tossed aside, did in fact contain a very, very thin woman. Apparently, said table of people had watched her lie down on the seat about 5 minutes before we arrived.

So there we were, a nurse who hasn’t nursed in quite some time, and ex-physiotherapist (now a CCG Accountable Officer); victims of muscle memory, we were moving even before we had time to think. Pulse taken, resps observed, attempts to rouse made. As I had seen a container of sweetners on the table, my first thought was hypoglycaemia; but she was rousable enough to say she wasn’t diabetic. Then a glance into her open handbag and onto a almost empty bottle of vodka bought me back to the orange juice. And there was answer. A short time later the paramedic arrived (breaking any response time targets) and managed to fully rouse her, but left after doing what he needed to do clinically.

After offering to buy her some breakfast, to which she replied “there’s not point, I’m bulimic”, we listened to her story. She was middle-aged (interestingly, a news story about the rise in anorexia in middle-aged women broke later that week (http://bmcmedicine.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12916-016-0766-4), had children, but difficult relationships with her ex and her parents. She had experienced MH issues for several years, and for a myriad of reasons, found accessing emergency care, or indeed any care suitable for her, impossible despite being known to the local MH service. Presumably the alcohol made it all go away for a while…Eventually we had to go. She reassured us that she would be OK. What was so sad was that she thanked us for listening to her. But what had we done? Nothing really except make sure she was clinically OK and chatted for a while. We were walking back to our loved ones, our ‘normal’ lives, our homes, our support mechanisms.

We both have been left wondering what has happened to her after we left? Did she get home OK? Will the paramedics report be sent to someone in a MH service? Where does she go for help when she believes that all avenues have been closed to her? Should we have done more?

We probably will never know. But I hope that the proposals for MH care in the future stop people such as her falling through the system.

 

Picture Credit: Mandy Ansell

Don’t Panic!

Towel and well-thumbed copy of The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy packed…

I haven’t always been baffled by technology; in my nursing days, I could strip down and reassemble a ventilator, assemble and set infusion pumps, and occasionally fix the bed-pan washer. But as time has marched by, I find myself becoming less and less able to get my brain around it. Although I can assemble Ikea furniture without resorting to violence. So when my business partner Oliver, suggested that rather than us using an ‘off-the-peg site’ to build the Primary Care Nursing Review, we use a company named Don’t Panic! instead, I was immediately reassured. Partly because I knew that any attempt by me to design and build a site (even with templates) had disaster written all over it, but mostly because Douglas Adams was a genius, as the opening line of Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency -‘High on a rocky promontory sat an Electric Monk on a bored horse’ – proves. So, obviously they had a sense of humour, which was fortunate, as they were going to need it.

Oliver also mentioned that they had something called avatars on their website. I was immediately less reasssured, having previously lost 182 minutes of my life to a film with that name while on Godson-minding duty. Much guffawing later, O explained that an avatar is what we (sorry, just me) middle-aged people call a cartoon. Here are the avatars of the current team, Stuart Lawrence (technical chief high pixie) and James Hackney (Prince of Dorne).

Stuart
Stuart
James
James

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

To cut a long story short, they were rather brilliant and not just technically. Douglas Adams summed up their challenge perfectly:

A common mistake that people make when trying to design something completely foolproof is to underestimate the ingenuity of complete fools.

And I have to admit, I was pretty much that fool! But they were patient, explained technical stuff in plain English (mostly!), and did not tut loudly when I asked them about something they had explained to me in the previous 10 minutes. They would make perfect nurses.

Thus, it made perfect sense to me to ask them to create this site despite the fact that their core work is with organisations rather than individuals (especially technophobes such as myself). Stuart, to his eternal credit, almost managed to muffle his scream while James was on the phone agreeing to help. And after a couple of twists in the space-time continuum, again they have delivered in spades, cleverly managing to translate my technical instructions (“please move that squiggly bit from there to behind that other bit”) into exactly what I wanted.

So a big ‘thank you’ to Stuart and James.

The Don’t Panic! team can be contacted via:

telephone: 07725 209 820

website: http://dontpanicdesign.co.uk/

P.S.

Before our first face to face meeting, I wondered whether or not I would be able to recognise the boys from their avatars. When I met them I took a picture. What do you think?

Stuart
Stuart
James
James

 

 

A Luddite is broken…

The Elderly SoMe-er

I came late to Twitter, so could be described as an ‘eldery prima-tweetera’. Being at least a generation older than the usual Twitter/SoMe demographic, it was something I considered to be out of my age-range.  And indeed, something I thought nurses on the whole wouldn’t take to – how wrong I was!

However, shortly after I had agreed with Oliver’s (bonkers) idea to set up a multi-platform, digital-only journal (a.k.a. PCNR), I was given the password to our newly opened twitter account, sent to look at the We Communities site (http://www.wecommunities.org/about), developed by the fabulous Teresa Chinn MBE,  and told to get on with it.

And I have to be honest I’ve loved it from day one. Of course I read tweets that make me itch to respond with a WTF? (yes, the odd cuss escapes us at times!), or a ‘you have to be joking’. Those I try to leave well alone; after all, it’s really difficult to have an argument in 140 characters (or if you are fat apparently; once, while staying in a hotel, I heard several young people having a heated discussion along the corridor – suddenly, a woman shouted “You’d better lose some weight before you argue with me…”). But I have also responded to some fabulous tweets. Those about work, home, what is happening in the world, etc. And these have led to some great material for PCNR as well as opening up a whole network.

So if social media can work for us as health professionals, why can’t it work for our patients? Well of course, it does. Frank Booth has written about his experiences of sending his ‘heart messages’ to the clinic (https://pcnr.co.uk/articles/119/my-heart-your-care), and as he won’t mind me saying, he isn’t in his first flush of youth! Most of us get appointment reminders by text for dental and physio services. The potential is endless.

It is here to stay, let’s embrace it.

..she is only the instrument by whom the doctor gets his instructions carried out…

Some people firmly believe that progress is a Good Thing and everything from the past is a Bad Thing…

Recently, I was watching a news report about how boys read more when using a tablet or other electronic gizmo; some ‘commentators’ thought it was great (which it is!) others started batting on about the feel of books etc. I then wondered if anyone said the same thing when schoolchildren started writing on paper… “Oh, it’s not the same as using a slate and chalk…”, or when the inside lavatory was introduced…”Oh, it’s not the same as popping down the garden in the freezing rain…”

So, is the Nurse Associate (NA) role a forward or retrograde step? Well, I would have gone the whole hog and bought back the State Enrolled Nurse (and would also reinstate the State in Registered Nurse, but that will have to wait until I rule the world…). I am rather unconvinced that that a one year ‘training’ is the best way to address the issue of recruitment and attracting those who do not have the qualifications to do a ‘uni’ course immediately. And while organisations can determine the numbers required at a local level, I would very, very strongly suggest that the actual course is heterogenous across the country – you know just like SRN and SEN training used to be – in order that everyone knows what the NA can and can’t do at the end of it.

A couple of years ago, I came across a series of textbooks written by the magnificently monnikered J McGregor Robertson MB, CM, FRFPSG*. These were penned in 1907, and the sections of the duties and qualifications of a sick-nurse would make a perfect template for the NA role. Here is an example or two:

Qualifications of a sick-nurse

  • Intelligent, painstaking, careful, exact and methodical
  • Scrupulously clean & tidy in her ways and appearance
  • Her breath must not be foul-smelling (several recipies for tooth powder and mouthwash are given)
  • All her work must be done  without fuss/noise and without drawing attention to what she is doing
  • She must not be a gossip or a chatterer
  • Her own symptoms and ailments are not to be referred to at all

The nurse’s dress & behaviour

  • Dress must be of soft material that will not rustle, and of a quiet colour
  • A white apron, with a pair of close fitting linen cuffs, and a white cap (quite right too!)
  • She should go about the sick-room…with a decided step…not shaking the floor with her movements…
  • Have warm hands – a cold hand or a clammy hand is an abomination

Duties of a sick-nurse

  • She must begin with the idea firmly planted in her mind that she is only the instrument by whom the doctor gets his instructions carried out – she occupies no independent position in the treatment of the sick person (so no need for a degree after all…)
  • She has no opinions or thoughts
  • Patient observation
  • Recording food/drink intake/output, temperature, (but only bare facts – she will not colour the report with her own explanation)
  • Preparation of food

There we are then. The NA role sorted.

Any applicants?

* Dr McGregor-Robertson, according to his obituary (BMJ March 28th 1925), was a great advocate of the ‘Scottish Nurses’ Association’, and worked tirelessly on behalf of Scottish Nurses, so don’t judge his thoughts too harshly!