No degrees in compassion

August 18, 2011

I read with increasing concern Ruth Davies' letter ("Angels with dirty hands", 11 August).

Let me register my interest. I trained and practised as a state registered nurse from 1968 to 1974, working in three leading institutions - Addenbrooke's Hospital in Cambridge, plus University College and the Central Middlesex hospitals in London. I am now reading for an English degree at the University of Cambridge as a mature student. I also recently supported my elderly mother through several hospital admissions. I am therefore lucky to have experience of excellent, pre-university nursing training and ward experience, a current university education and recent and lengthy observation of nursing practice on hospital wards.

I strongly suspect that when Davies says there is "absolutely no evidence to show that graduate nurses are 'too posh to wash'", what she means is that there has never been any research to produce this evidence, in the UK at least. But absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.

Over the past four years while visiting different hospital wards every day, I have witnessed many instances of substandard, even dangerous, nursing practice indicating a paucity of practical training. I fully support those (according to Davies) "lazy" journalists who expose substandard caring, whether they work for "red tops" or broadsheets. Her prejudice against investigative journalism is clearly exposed by her unfortunate comments.

Graduate nurses emerge, blinking, into the sunshine of an NHS ward with apparently little understanding as to the sometimes difficult practicalities of daily nursing. Yes, they may be able to write theses on viral pandemics, but do they want to hold the hand of a frightened patient in the middle of the night? This is what true nursing is about - being patient-centred, not staff-centred.

The many recent instances of substandard care I have witnessed lead me to think that it is not down to one hospital's particular culture: it hints at a central malaise that needs treating. A nurse either cares instinctively or she doesn't: it is nurses who do not find caring to be a natural part of their psychological make-up who hide behind the public approbation of their university qualifications.

Anthea Bain, Ely, Cambridgeshire

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