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Bedpans and Bandages Episode 2: Getting to grips with the basics

February 25, 2014

A guest blog by @BunzBird

It’s Friday night prime time telly on ITV. Let’s wiggle a dent in the sofa, cocoa and biccies on standby, grab the remote, now where’s that nursing programme…here we go, Channel 4: ‘Extreme Dog Styling’! Sounds interesting. No, stick with ITV for episode 2 of Bedknobs and Bottywashers! Errrr, Your Life in Their Bedpan! Grrrr, what’s it called? *consults Pick TV* here we are, Bedpans and Bandages. I knew that.

Last week’s episode got a thumbs up from tweeting student nurses (and some ‘almost’ student nurses), who seemed excited at the prospect of more ‘look, that’s what I do!’ or ‘starting uni soon, sooooo excited!’ Twitter went crazy, with a steady stream of #bedpansandbandages comments, but hey, what’s with the mega-long hashtag? Every tweet required a blast of high flow oxygen just to maintain the tweeter’s consciousness. Suppose there was little alternative, after all, #BnB could have been mistaken for Channel 4’s reality show ‘Four in a Bed’, where the proprietors of mid-priced guest houses argue and make each other cry. Mix the two conversations and things could get awkward.

But back to the programme. This week’s intro once again emphasised that ‘training to be a nurse has changed dramatically since the early days of the NHS. Greater demands and added responsibility make it harder to qualify than ever before.’ OK – but on the basis of what we’ve got here, where’s the evidence? Episode 2 presented us with three new students including affable TK, who was clearly an absolute natural with kids. Watching him chase cheeky Caleb round the ward was a delight, and his rapport with both child and parent appeared effortless. TK explains that now he’s in his second year, he’s learned to introduce himself to patients. Great! Except that most people would consider this to be normal, polite social interaction, not academic skill.

To be fair to TK, he’s probably trying to say that as a first year, you’re so nervous it’s easy to forget the little things, and now he’s in his second year he’s got to grips with the basics. However, it doesn’t explain to the viewer how nurse education has got tougher, and we’re left wondering what student nurses actually do at university. A module on manners? Doesn’t really ooze academic rigor.

It was the same with the other two students we met in this episode, Aimee and Kelly. Our introduction to both of them was heavy on emotion – who could resist wonderful Kelly, who was determined to conquer her dread of snot, bogies and other assorted yuk in order to make a difference to patients – love it! It was brilliant, and comprehensively demolished any lingering notions that student nurses lack compassion – but it doesn’t explain why they also need degrees. To the wards, then. Perhaps we’ll find the answer there?

Enter Liz, Aimee’s mentor.  She closely supervises as Aimee successfully performs a tricky procedure on Sheila, a lady on a stroke ward. It’s a shame the programme doesn’t show how the decision to insert the naso-gastric tube was made. Was it doctor’s orders? Well no, actually. Almost certainly it would have been a team decision, but one in which the nurse would have been heavily involved. What an opportunity to showcase the nursing voice in clinical decision making. Shame it was missed.

Despite this however, what really shone out was Sister Liz: a terrific mentor. Some mentors just are great role models and she was clearly one of those people. An experienced nurse, who enjoys working with students, and – crucially – remembers what it was like to be one, she made the interaction between herself, Sheila and Aimee look easy. Sister Liz is the package: knowledgeable, compassionate, and a beacon for aspiring student nurses and still at the bedside. The importance of keeping great nurses like her can’t be underestimated. They are the cornerstone of quality patient care and a true asset to the NHS. But as a mentor, how representative was she?

Criticism of Bedpans and Bandages from the nursing community has been muted, but what little there has been has centred on the programme’s cosy portrayal  of the student/mentor relationship. In a review of the first episode for the Student Journal blog, Kate Crumpler described her experiences of ‘nurses that make it clear they don’t want you as their student, don’t have skills to share and…that you are in their way’. On the other side of the fence, a recent piece for the Nursing Times garnered much support. In it, an ‘old school’ nurse argued that it is nearly impossible to fail a student these days, and that turning up with crazy hair and looking like you’ve a fight with a staple gun (and lost) is viewed as perfectly acceptable. Mentors feel held to ransom by universities as sub-standard students are passed from pillar to post in a bid to get them through the system. While a TV series about student nurses is plainly not the place to explore these grievances, it’s clear that out in the real world, there are a lot of tensions bubbling away beneath the surface. The whole mentoring system is ripe for complete overhaul.

What else? Well, all the students in this episode worked long days of 13 hours. But even that’s not enough for Martin, Kelly’s mentor. Martin demonstrates his devotion to duty by observing that ‘the majority of nurses stay late… because they enjoy it’. Errrr, no, they stay late because the ward is short staffed, they haven’t finished the paperwork, or a myriad of other depressing reasons. After 13 hours most nurses’ brains are the consistency of undercooked scrambled egg, which is not conducive to clinical decision making. It’s all well and good playing the hero until a mistake is made, and it’s discovered that your time spent off the ward between shifts is in single figures. Credit where it’s due: Martin was probably trying to demonstrate how committed he and his colleagues are. It went wrong. And when the tin of Family Circle came round on next shift’s coffee break, I bet it didn’t go under his nose. First year Kelly, though, was very honest about how tough she’d found the long day. Granted it was her first shift, and her mind was full of first day nerves, but her experience demonstrated that training to be a nurse ain’t no breeze.

Following recent scandals such as Mid Staffs, nursing’s image has been badly tarnished. Were the commissioners hoping 30 mins of television would put those wrongs right? Was it asking too much, were hopes too high? Perhaps it’s unrealistic to expect a short TV programme to wash away deep rooted stereotypes, and from the programme makers perspective, their brief won’t have been focused around re-branding one of the most misunderstood professions. Is it possible to demonstrate how nurses operate on a tacit level, how they make complex decisions as though it’s the most natural thing in the world? Hell a PR company would have its work cut out with that one. And even if it’s failed to capture the complex nature of nursing, Bedpans and Bandages is offering up some good exposure. It’s giving a glimpse into some aspects of pre-registration training which otherwise would have remained anonymous; without it, many people would still believe nurses are either lolling around in uni, or being bossed around by shouty matrons. Flick over to Channel Four to catch Extreme Dog Styling instead? Not likely!

For Kate Crumpler’s Review of Episode 1 of Bedpans and Bandages, see:

For Brian Booth’s article on the current standard of nurse education, see

Could you write a review of a forthcoming episode of Bedpans and Bandages? Contact me via Twitter to discuss.

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