Want to know the NHS's real problem? Ask a nurse for a bowl of cornflakes

It is an all too familiar feeling. Going to see someone in hospital, trying to gee them up and then leaving in quiet desperation, fretting about the lack of basic nursing care.


Post-operative, sore and weak patients are expected to do things that they simply cannot do: lift a jug of water, haul themselves and their various drips to the bathroom, sit up and eat food that has been plonked in front of them.

What happens outside visiting hours or to those who do not have visitors is indeed a worry.

I know that arguments about the NHS are always boiled down to issues of economics, with massive top-down restructuring being cited as the explanation for all ills. But this simply isn't true.

There was a crisis in caring long before this Government. 'Cuts' don't explain a begrudging manner. 'Cuts' don't explain the complete lack of communication between shifts.

'Cuts' don't explain why nurses sit at their stations chatting and glare at you if you ask for anything.

Nurses complain that they have neither the time nor the staff to deliver quality care and that in these conditions their bedside manner is often compromised.

This is an understatement. In some wards they are very rarely at the bedside.

I certainly don't want to attack all nurses, as I have seen wonderful care at first-hand, but I do want to know why some nurses now armed with 'care plans' feel it demeaning to do the basic tasks of nursing.

The combination of skill and care that the best nurses exhibit is remarkable: my daughter, with a fractured skull and blood caked everywhere, had her hair gently washed by two nurses.

I have seen lip-balm slicked on to the mouths of the terminally ill. I have seen student nurses sit long past the end of their shift, chatting to lonely people.

The hospital I was in this week saved my youngest's life when she had meningitis, so I am well aware of the everyday miracles performed there. Yet on the wards, especially if you are getting on a bit, it's a different story.

The person I went to see, someone who has spent her life caring for others, needs to be encouraged to eat and move around to recover from major surgery.

Feeling nauseous, she asked for cornflakes but was offered only porridge, which she didn't want. A small thing perhaps, as is the fact she wants to get up and have a bath and needs help to do so – yet all this would aid her recovery.

This phenomenon of some nurses being 'too posh to wash' is not new. Recent scandals over the care of the elderly who are often left hungry and thirsty cannot be a shock to anyone who has been near a hospital.

Boxes are ticked, a tray of food is put in front of patients and removed whether they can manage or not. If a member of the family is not there to act as an advocate, basic needs are neglected. Something has gone awry with the training and recruitment of nurses.

The default defence is 'staff shortages'. The nursing union has warned of 'catastrophic consequences' for patient care as the NHS tries to save

£20 billion by 2014, and talks of how Cameron's promise to protect frontline services has been broken.

But somewhere between high politics and an elderly woman who needs to be coaxed to eat, we need to talk about the valuing of care itself.

To reduce nursing to the systematically inept feeding, watering and doling out of medication is insulting but this is, I am afraid, what some nursing professionals have done.

That this culture of callousness appears institutionalised is what is so deeply demoralising. Such failure is viral. Surely both nurses and patients should be doing all they can to build resistance to it.

Source Mail Online By SUZANNE MOORE

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The Operating Theatre Journal, OTJ, is published monthly and distributed to every hospital operating theatre department in the UK. The distribution includes both the National Health Service and the Private Sector.

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