Comment: ‘No profession should be above criticism’

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Scotland’s chief nurse has certainly sparked a storm with her comments about rude staff within the National Health Service.

It is no wonder that people are upset if they have interpreted Professor Fiona McQueen’s words as running down her own profession.

We all know that the vast majority of nurses are extremely dedicated and hard-working. And, in the face of ever-growing pressures, provide first-class care day in and day out across the region.

It is the simple things that are often the most impressive. The medical treatment we receive might be first-rate – and usually is – but it is the human touch that often makes the difference. It is the nurse who is perhaps worn out and under pressure but still manages to find a kind word or make a thoughtful gesture because they know we are anxious or at a low ebb. That is real care – as opposed to simply medical treatment – and our health service excells at it.

That, however, is not the full story. There are many patients and their families who will recognise that this is not always the case. How could it be in an organisation that employs 160,000 people in Scotland alone?

The pressures of the job will sometimes get to most hospital staff and there are some who simply do not have the right skills or attitude for the work.

Prof McQueen is quite right to recognise this and to help focus minds on tackling the problem where it exists. Where the chief nursing officer has rubbed people up the wrong way is perhaps in the incidents she has chosen to higlight. Some, like insulting incontient patients, are clearly unacceptable. Appearing to berate staff for not saying a cheery hello to every visitor is maybe asking too much. Of course it would be nice but none of us manage that level of performance all the time.

We should celebrate the excellent work of our NHS staff, but no profession should be above criticism.