The Government has published outline plans for reform of the nursing profession following the Francis report into the devastating failures in care at Stafford Hospital. The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) has criticised the plans saying that they were a missed opportunity to make changes that could have a positive impact on patient care. At their annual conference, delegates were told that nurses were overstretched because of low staffing levels, and last week there were complaints that nurses were being asked to spend far too much of their time on form filling rather than patient care.

The particular issue taken up in the media today has been the suggestion that trainee nurses should work for a year on the wards as healthcare assistants in order to learn about the day to day reality of providing care. Representatives of the RCN have said that this is a stupid and impractical suggestion and that it will not in any event do anything to teach nurses to ‘care’ properly.

Trefine Maynard, a solicitor in Ashton KCJ’s clinical negligence team, says: “We hear complaints about nursing care in hospital depressingly often. Simple and seemingly obvious steps such as making sure that a patient can reach and eat their meals, that a check is kept that a patient is drinking enough to be properly hydrated, keeping the nursing records up to date and accurate are all too often being ignored. I cannot say whether this is due to pressure of work or because those on the wards genuinely do not care. What does seem clear is that there is no longer a sense of obligation to the patient or a sense of pride in work done well.

To some extent the reason for this is irrelevant unless it is fundamental to putting it right. What is crucial is finding a way, and quickly, to improve nursing in our hospitals. The incidents of poor nursing care do not just cause distress to patients and their families but also the large number of genuinely caring nurses who understandably feel upset at the failures of some of their colleagues, whatever the reason for these. Political argument is not what the public want or need to hear. Some consensus between the Government and those leading the nursing profession about a positive way forward would be very welcome. The issue is not one of making political capital but of proving high level and efficient nursing care to reassure patients and their families.”