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I wish I had paid more attention. In truth, I had moaned about going to the moving and handling update.
It was preventing me from attending to my unwieldy ‘to do’ list. It had been difficult to see the relevance of it when I worked exclusively in sexual health clinic, where the patients are more agile than the staff. I spent most of the session practising mindfulness in an attempt not to stress about my unfinished tasks.
“Had I known that some months later I would be dependent on these skills, I might have given it the focus it deserved”
I had tried, unsuccessfully, to wriggle out of the practical demonstrations on using aids and hoists. Smug in the knowledge that I would not have to use them, I volunteered to get up on the bed, playing to the gallery with my am-dram portrayal of a patient that did not want to move.
Had I known that some months later I would be dependent on these skills, I might have given it the focus it deserved.
That was before the advent of Covid-19, when I could not have imagined I would be back on the wards looking after the elderly.
Moving patients is something that I never have to do, and I have felt totally out of my depth. I have been reliant on the guidance of my adopted team and I am humbled by their mastery of the dark art of moving and handling.
The ability to turn a patient, change the sheets, mop up a wet bed in a swift and comfortable movement requires enormous expertise. I have surprised some of my new team mates with my total lack of knowledge.
I have had to ask for help, confessing that I recognise I need to change my patient’s position but did not know where to start.
I have been amazed by the dextrous proficiency and sometimes downright ingenuity of my adopted colleagues. I am doing my best to watch and learn and copy their artful tricks.
They have shown me how to tip the head of the bed down to smooth a transfer up the bed, and how to tuck a pillow in under a sheet to support a patient of their side.
I am frankly ashamed of how I have undervalued moving and handling competence and I will be listening attentively at the next opportunity.
“It troubles me to hear healthcare assistants referred to as ‘untrained’ staff”
Let’s face it, the majority of the heavy work is done by healthcare assistants. They do the lion’s share of washing patients and changing beds. This is the coal face, the dirty work, the hard graft. It is taken for granted across the board, but this is where a rich seam of talent lies.
It troubles me to hear healthcare assistants referred to as ‘untrained’ staff. They are not untrained – this level of skill is carefully learned, and if we perpetuate the use of this term, we undervalue their expertise.
The last few weeks have shown me that making a person comfortable in bed is an exquisitely complex nursing task and we should give it the credence it deserves. The fact that it is everyday and ordinary does not diminish its worth.
We need to value this nursing knowledge as the precious commodity it is. If the nursing profession does not value its own nursing skill and competence, then who on earth will?
Ruth Bailey is nurse team leader, Sexual Health and Contraception (SHAC), Brighton and Sussex University Hospitals Trust