A butterfly's wings flapping in a Brazilian jungle, eventually contributing to a hurricane in Britain, illustrates chaos theory. Perhaps the theory also explains why the unanticipated arrival of winter and attendant bed pressures generates a media clamour for nurse education to be removed from where thinking is encouraged. Ironically, the naivety of these analyses belies the fact that most of the scribblers themselves enjoyed a university education. Sadly, both front benches have jumped on the bandwagon.
Nurse education was restructured because what went before was woefully inadequate.
Students left alone in charge of acute wards at night, and three-quarters of patient care being provided by trainees, were rightly judged unsafe and unacceptable practices. This supposed golden age of nursing featured many Hattie Jacques sisters or matrons. Most would have been hard-pressed to justify any of the ritualistic tasks of their largely trainee labour force. 'Ours not to reason why. . .' typified their thinking rather than evidence based practice. In many hospitals, some of these individuals' behaviour and attitudes contributed to student wastage in excess of 50 per cent. Because trainees constituted cheap labour, the nursing budget inherited by the NHS was unrealistically low. No government in five decades has been committed to ratcheting it up to a level commensurate with reasonable salaries.
Around 60 per cent of 18 year-olds go into further education, a figure which will rise.
Uniquely excluding nurses would be ludicrous. How many readers want to be nursed by individuals of low intelligence? How many were taken aback to hear that the recently convicted nanny had an IQ of 81? A belief has taken hold that caring and intelligence are incompatible traits. 'Whatever happened to the good old enrolled nurses?' goes the cry. Has no-one heard of healthcare assistants? The argument seems to be that, by excluding nurses from higher education, they will remain oblivious that their peers earn considerably more as accountants or doctors. Get real.
Nurse education doesn't need or deserve root-and-branch restructuring: a report is expected from the profession's UK Central Council in the autumn. Doubtless it will recommend some fine-tuning; hopefully, it will call for co-ordinated effort to determine how many nurses are needed nationally and at ward level. Perhaps it might suggest incorporating more 'house officer' work experience into the curricula - which, contrary to one journalist's opinion, have not been 'taken over by the nihilistic, post-modern gibberish that has disfigured social sciences'. Is a university education needed to write such drivel?