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Confessions of a Male Nurse
on 3 May 2014
Confessions of a Male Nurse is a sequel of sorts to the successful Confessions of a GP, by Benjamin Daniels. It has a broadly similar epistolary structure, which lends itself well to a series of anecdotes on connected themes.
Confessions of a Male Nurse is a volume that may hold particular interest to those interested in comparisons between the NHS and other healthcare systems. The protagonist is trained in New Zealand, and spends much of the book practising there, but also spends some years in the NHS in London. Unfortunately, I didn’t feel that the differences were pulled out very clearly in the narrative, which felt like a lost opportunity.
In both Confessions of a GP and this volume, the protagonists admit some ethically dodgy behaviour. In GP, these felt like genuine dilemmas, and made me appreciate the reasons behind the course of action taken – even when I didn’t agree with them. The confessions in Male Nurse, however, were of a wholly different type. The behaviour of the protagonist often struck me as entirely inappropriate, and the justifications for it were poor. For example, there are several anecdotes in which nursing colleagues are providing wholly substandard care, and causing bodily harm to patients. Our protagonist reasons that, as a bank nurse, he shouldn’t complain or he won’t get work in the institution again. And so, the appalling behaviour continues.
I would like to think that I would not do the same. I’ve never been a bank nurse, but I have been a junior doctor, and I have – particularly when patients have come to harm – reported incidents in which colleagues have made errors. I’ve reported incidents involving senior colleagues on at least two occasions. This isn’t done in a vindictive way. It isn’t done with the intention of assigning guilt. It is done to ensure that incidents in which patients are harmed are fully investigated, and prevented from re-occurring. It may be, for example, that the harm caused to patients in the anecdotes in Male Nurse are not caused by callous individuals, but by a system that is creating dangerous under-staffing, or perhaps by personal issues affecting an individual. Brushing the problem under the carpet and failing to take any action whatsoever perpetuates the problem.
To report such incidents is my duty. I’ve always been aware that doing so might make my life more difficult, and I’ve never done so without discussing it first with the people involved. It made me very uncomfortable to read of someone else protecting themselves before both their patients. But, on the other hand, I guess this is important. If this behaviour is common in hospitals, it is important that we understand it better to prevent it continuing. Perhaps this book shines a light on behaviour that we ought to better understand. Perhaps it offers elucidation of a problem that we should look into further. I’m not sure.
If we put that issue to one side, then the book is quite entertaining. There were moments of frustration where the author’s explanation of diseases and medical procedures were a little out of kilter with reality, but – by and large – the descriptions were pretty good. The narrative structure was a little uncertain, seemingly varying between an epistolary form relating individual anecdotes, and a more formal chronological description of events across chapters, and there were consequently times where I felt a little lost within the narrative superstructure, unsure whether we were in London or New Zealand. But this isn’t a bad book, and I don’t feel it deserves harsh criticism. I’m just not absolutely sure I’d recommend it.