A distant dream of clothes for the emperor

2nd November 2007 at 00:00

I woke up with a nurse the other morning. Not just any old nurse either, but Justine Whitaker - Nurse of the Year, no less.

To say that I was "with" her is perhaps a slight exaggeration. Physically, she was actually in the company of Edward Stourton of the Today programme on Radio Four. And he was interviewing her because, despite receiving that Nurse of the Year accolade only seven months earlier, she was leaving the NHS.

Most of the item was taken up with Justine's explanations for why she was quitting. Was it for the money? Better hours? The prospect of an easier life? It was none of these. She was leaving because she wanted to get back to the business of nursing.

This was becoming harder and harder to accomplish in the NHS, she maintained, because of all the other things they were expected to spend their time doing nowadays. Specifically she mentioned bureaucracy, form- filling, targets and meetings. Also, she said, those who run the service seemed to think it could be improved by more and more managers and fewer and fewer nurses.

Although she was leaving, she hoped that one day things might start to improve. There surely must come, she said, an "Emperor's New Clothes" moment when someone would look at the service and ask: why aren't the nurses nursing any more?

By coincidence, I wrote a column some seven or eight years ago based on just such a premise. This of course related to lecturers rather than nurses, but in effect it made the same point. Sometime soon, I ventured, someone with clout was going to ask why college teachers were expected to do so many other things beside teach.

Sadly that moment has not yet arrived. The emperor continues to parade as blatantly naked as ever. I still think that ultimately someone will rumble it. But now I feel I should add a caveat to my original prediction: not in my lifetime.

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