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Don’t buy it

December 29, 2014

In the warped, impervious-to-reason world of the Daily Mail, is there anything worse than a nurse with a degree? Well actually, there might be. How about: a foreign nurse with a degree? In the run-up to Christmas, the DM – along with other national media – trumpeted the arresting headline that ‘4 in 5 new nurses on NHS wards are foreign’. If you’re thinking this figure seems rather high – well done. In fact, it turned out that the whole story was based on incorrectly interpreted data.

Fortunately, the error was spotted by the Health and Social Care Information Centre (HSCIC – the body that provides national statistics for the NHS), who wasted no time in firing off a letter to the DM‘s editor apprising him of the real figure and demanding he print a correction. ‘When we ran our data’ the HSCIC informed him, ‘we found that…of all the joiners with a known nationality between September 2013 and September 2014, 22.0 per cent…were non-British’. In other words, roughly ONE in five.

Now I don’t doubt that the Mail would protest, if challenged, that its object in running both this article and others on a similar theme that appeared the same week, was to draw attention to the disastrous lack of planning around the UK nursing workforce – an omission that has inexorably led to the dire shortage of nurses the country now faces. And I agree that there’s debate to be had here; it’s a something I’ve often written about myself. But if that was the only motivation, then why – in addition to publishing a correction, which was done – hasn’t the paper re-written the December 18th story, whose original ‘four in five’ wording remains (as of 29th December) defiantly unaltered on the MailOnline website? Maybe because, in reality, workforce planning was never what it was about?

When it comes to the Daily Mail, you don’t, of course, need a doctorate in media studies to conclude that much of its output carries a barely-concealed agenda of stirring up panic about immigration. But Daily Mail articles on nursing always carry an additional stench. They’re like mouldy carpets. Lift them up, and what do you find underneath? Rotten floorboards.

In its December 18th piece, the paper hinted that one of the reasons why training places for nurses had been cut between 2009 and 2013 was cost. ‘In the past’ it lamented ‘training nurses was far cheaper because they could learn as apprentices in hospitals. But a system brought in during the 1990s required all nurses to have a degree’.

To the Daily Mail, this bit of reasoning must look very much like hitting the jackpot. Overlooking the minor inconvenience of nursing not actually becoming all-degree until last year (2013, by my calculation), it has shamelessly forged an outrageous and totally spurious connection between degree nurses and immigration – co-incidentally, two of the things it hates most. The one, we are now asked to believe, has caused the other; if we scrapped degrees, we wouldn’t need to recruit overseas. Bingo!

How deliciously ironic then, are the DM‘s anxieties that nurses trained in other countries may be incompetent or have ‘a lack of understanding of processes and procedures’! At the same time as it wages its never-ending campaign of undermining the educational attainments expected of home-grown nurses, it has the bare-faced chutzpah to be sniffy about the worth of qualifications gained overseas. But even this isn’t the worst of it. The real problem, according to the Daily Mail, is language: immigrant nurses can’t speak English.

OK, cards on the table. I have worked with many, many foreign nurses and almost without exception, their English is humblingly good. If it weren’t, Trusts would not employ them – indeed, on its website, the Nursing and Midwifery Council specifically requires that employers satisfy themselves on this point. So – largely a non-problem. What is is much more interesting is the DM‘s own use of language when talking about nurses.

Because leaving aside the fact that almost all its recent ‘reporting’ about foreign nurses’ language ability is based on anecdote, supposition (‘we are concerned that poor English skills may lead to mistakes’ – fair enough, but where is the evidence of ‘poor English skills’?), non-attributed ‘research’ and logical inconsistencies (‘one Trust in the Midlands sent 80 [overseas] nurses on a…course to learn the intricacies of the local Black Country dialect’ – for God’s sake, do you want them to know how to communicate or don’t you?), there are even more worrying trends on display here.

For example pay. According to the 20th December article, nurses moving to Gloucester can look forward to ‘pocketing up to up to £28,000 a year for a 37.5-hour week, plus double time over the holidays’. I hardly know where to start with this. Firstly: it’s a distortion of fact – starting salary for a Band 5 staff nurse anywhere in England outside London is £24,478. Secondly: what’s so wrong with £28,000 anyway? It’s hardly a king’s ransom. And thirdly: that word ‘pocketing’ – a term more usually associated with dishonest practices. It makes it sound like nurses have it so easy that when they ask to be paid a decent wage, they’re perpetrating some kind of fraud. Like working in the NHS is a holiday. Like the real answer is to pay nurses less, so the UK becomes less attractive to greedy foreigners. And that, ladies and gentlemen, demeans everyone.

The only reason the Mail can get away with peddling this poisonous rubbish is because they believe that nursing is not a real career. Evidence? How about the paper’s indignation at the supposed plight of ‘nurses in their 40s who left to start families [and] can’t find jobs to return to’. Given the scale of the nursing shortage and current efforts to attract back to the profession nurses whose registrations have lapsed, these stories seem unlikely. But they do underline the idea of nursing as a secondary activity that women should be able fit around their primary role of home-maker.

If this were about xenophobia only, it would be bad enough. But it’s about so much more. In its hatred of degree nursing and casual equation of hard-earned wages with theft, it’s about also about misogyny and – ultimately – misanthropy. While the Mail‘s purported (and already ridiculous) message is ‘British patients deserve to be cared for by British nurses’, its convoluted logic means that what it’s actually saying is ‘British patients don’t deserve to be cared for by nurses who are educated and in control’. Don’t buy it.

  1. Basket Press permalink

    It’s The Heil…Incapable, apparently, of factual accuracy, refuse to admit wrong-doing/mis-reporting or anything similar…

    Lemme see now, what was The Heil’s line on Mr Fraudy Pants Lying Trousers and the MMR/autism farrago? For which they have never admitted any errors either.

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