A Manifesto for Action Nursing

Benny Goodman, Lecturer in Nursing & Sociology, School of Nursing & Midwifery, Plymouth University

This manifesto calls for a social movement for political activism by nurses and other health professionals, to address inequalities in health and the social inequalities that highly structure, but do not determine, health outcomes. This action can operate at individual, clinical, organisational, national and international level.

Our aim is to respond to threats to health and socialised health service delivery from corporate, financial and political interests.

Our vision is for decreasing social and health inequalities in which the social gradient is greatly diminished.

Our goal is to create a networked social movement involving political and civic activism to bring critical understanding and action into the public sphere.

As millions of people in the UK, and billions across the globe, experience a daily struggle to both give and receive care, nurses must ally themselves with the progressive forces which seek to redress the balance of power of the ‘Greedy Bastards’ whose actions have the unintended consequences of social inequalities and inequalities in health. Action Nursing, alongside an ‘Action Sociology’, wishes to remove the ‘flowers from the chains’ so that we more clearly see what holds us back from understanding care as vital, as central, to our ‘species being’ and is not mere adjunct, to be ignored within the private (female) domain.

As many governments embrace austerity policies within a neoliberal political economy, capital accumulation takes on various anti-democratic forms unaccountable to the people engaged in what Marcuse (1964) called ‘the pacification of the struggle for existence’.  The provision of nursing may be seen as a cost and not a benefit to those who decide where the investments should be made. Capital accumulation practices in health care delivery, especially in the care of older people and those with mental health issues, often results in absent or stretched services, or hiring under educated and poorly trained staff who too often lack supervision and development and who work in high patient to staff ratios. It also seeks private insurance based schemes and prefers services which can return profits. Care givers also work in the private domain, the informal sector, providing vital support to the wider business of capital accumulation but with very little or no recognition or return for such efforts. This ideology is maintained by appeals to the moral character of such work, often locating it firmly within kin networks as a ‘reciprocal gift’ that would be sullied by any suggestions of a cash nexus.

Nurse educators, clinicians and students do not work in a socio-political vacuum. However, one would think that they do if the content of curricula and the learning experiences planned are anything to go by. Indeed any discussion around political economy, patriarchy and capitalism is liable to be met with surprise, apathy, or disdain apart from those engaged in teaching the social sciences in nursing. Nursing cannot shy away from addressing these questions. Nurses as women, who experience the requirements to care in both their domestic and public lives, bear the brunt of the demands of a society which needs that care to be done but is unwilling to fully fund it. We need to argue for the social value of care and against privatised individualised provision which falls unfairly on the shoulders of those who often do not have the resources to provide it.

Intrinsic to the nursing project is a concern for the health of individuals, communities and populations but in any point in history nurses will find themselves confronting ideologies; these are erroneous worldviews or theories that justify, sanction or provide cover for financial, business or political interests. Nursing’s ethics of care should include opposing forces that suppress truths about the societies we inhabit.

Nursing care in an often uncaring society should necessarily be oriented to justice and solidarity. It should be active not passive and should exist as a form of intervention against ‘distorted communication’ that interpellates nursing and nurses into subservient subject positions.  This has never been developed fully in Nursing theory because the discipline has been focused on other laudable aims. The result is a large number of workers in health services have no analytical tools or critical thought in which to contextualise and critique their experiences with vulnerable people. Critical theoretical concepts, such as ‘governmentality’ or ‘praxis’ or ‘frontiers of control’ ‘or ‘critical reflexivity’, would be sadly be alien to most nurses.

Action Nursing therefore contests the (often biomedical) ‘taming’ of nursing especially in the post-1970s neo-liberal era, including the shying away from arguing about contentious or ‘risky’ issues. Witness the uncritical passivity with which nurses in the UK have accepted ‘values based recruitment’, the ‘6Cs’ and ‘revalidation’ as panaceas to the issues of the quality of care; witness as well the lack of action regarding the structural conditions of the NHS following the Health and Social Care Act.

An Action Nursing cannot stand on the sidelines as a passive recipient of the decisions made by other powerful actors. It has to dwell on exploitation and oppression that result in inequalities in health for the population and stress, burnout and compassion fatigue for nursing staff and other care givers in their homes. Action Nursing should engage in the Marcusian ‘Great Refusal; it stands against the actions of the wealthy and powerful and actions whose consequences include the social gradient seen in the mass of data on health inequalities and evidenced in people’s lives in such works as ‘The Life Project’ (Pearson 2016).

This manifesto also allies itself with the manifesto ‘from Public to Planetary Health’. This is the voice of health professionals who together with empowered communities could confront entrenched interests and forces that endanger our future. This could be a powerful ‘social movement from below’ based on collective action at all levels to create better health outcomes, protect our futures and support sustainable human development.

Marcuse H (1964) One Dimensional Man. Routledge. London.

Pearson H (2016) The Life Project. Penguin. Allen Lane.

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