Thursday, 24 July 2008

Nursing Heroes

Who are your hero's?
I was at the gym the other day and while on the jogging machine a trailer came on the TV for the programme Heroes and you know the way your mind wanders? I thought about who my heroes are. It is a question that is asked at the start of courses so that it can be used as an ice breaker and get everyone talking. My usual answer is Homer Simpson! It usually generates a bit of comment and as I am aware of the reason for asking the question in the first place I don't mind taking a bit of ridicule. Actually I can justify it to an extent, he loves his family and does not let anything get in the way of what he wants and it always works out for him in the end - if only real life were like that.
I thought about the use of the term "Hero" and it seems to me that it is way overused. There is not, in my opinion, a sportsman in this world who deserves the title hero. They are training to do what they do and are very well paid to do it so they are out of the hero stakes. Comic book heroes are fine but do not exist. I am going to be controversial - firemen used to be automatic heroes but lost the right to the title when they stated doing risk assessments before going into dangerous situations. Lifeboatmen/women and people like mountain rescue personnel who put themselves in danger for someone else without pay are to me much more deserving of the title.
I then thought about nursing, do you have a nursing, or medical, hero? There have been plenty of doctors who could qualify for the title but not so many nurses. Everyone will tell you about Florence Nightingale although her hospital was several miles to the rear of any fighting during the Crimean war. Black nurses may mention Mary Seacole who was to be found at the front line during the same war treating soldiers from both sides. What about modern times?

One of my nursing heroes is Graham Pink. Mr. Pink was fired from his hospital in 1990 for 'whistle-blowing' after attempting to point out over two years the deficiency of care on the ward he worked on. No one listened, (does this sound familiar?) and he was eventually dismissed for 'breaching patient confidentiality', which he later fought in court and won. He did a tour of the country talking about his experiences and I was lucky enough to be in the audience at my hospital when he spoke. He received a standing ovation at the end of it from all the front line nurses. Sadly one of the nurse managers was overheard stating that she could not believe that this man could get that kind of reception and she would have gotten rid of him much sooner. Read the story here and think that almost 20 years on, nothing has changed - see here. Two parts of Mr. Pinks story has stayed with me since I heard it, the first is the way his supposed colleagues (all female, all senior nurses) failed him by refusing to back him up and in some cases denying there was a problem and the second thing is his account of being behind the screens with an elderly ill patient who he and his HCA could not leave (no other staff) and hearing the padding of footsteps going down the ward and out of the fire exit onto a metal staircase and the helplessness he felt as there was nothing he could do.
We should choose our heroes with care and not because they are popular, well paid or high profile.