Grubby, drunken and promiscuous is how Benjamin Lloyd Mancroft, 3rd Baron Mancroft allegedly described the entire British nursing profession during a debate on Patient Care in the National Health Service in the House of Lords on the 28th February 2008.
The Lord Mancroft lives at Badminton in Gloucestershire, and sometime in August 2007 he became ill and was admitted to an "accident and emergency department in a hospital not in London but in the West Country". It does not seem as if he enjoyed the experience, in fact he claimed that it was "a miracle that I am still alive", due to the filthy state of the ward, which he claimed was never cleaned during the seven days that he spent there. He also had something to say regarding the standard of care he'd received, and explained that;
The nurses who looked after me - not all of them; we should never generalise and there were one or two wonderful ones - were mostly grubby, with dirty fingernails and hair. They were slipshod, lazy and, worst of all, drunken and promiscuous. How do I know that? If you are a patient, lying in a bed and being nursed from either side, the nurses talk across you as if you are not there. I know exactly what they got up to the night before. I know how much they drank and what they were planning to do the next night, and it was pretty horrifying.
Mancroft later provided more detail and told the Daily Mail that he had heard one nurse say, "I really shouldn't be here because I had so much to drink last night and I feel like I'm going to be sick", whilst he also overheard a conversation where one nurse had asked, "Did you shag so-and-so?" to which the another replied "No, but I think I'm going to".
Fortunately the story had a happy ending as Lord Mancroft's wife "very kindly" kidnapped him and arranged for him to be taken to the Chelsea and Westminster Hospital in London, and Mancroft had nothing but praise for the Chelsea and Westminster Hospital which was "wonderful", "spotlessly clean" and featured nurses that "were marvellous".
Now while the Lord Mancroft had not mentioned the name of the hospital "in the West Country", it wasn't that difficult for others to work out that it was in fact the Royal United Hospital (RUH) in Bath, which naturally brought forth a "furious response" from those responsible for said hospital. James Scott, the chief executive of the RUH challenged Lord Mancroft to name the nurses involved (although one imagines the nurses involved would prefer that he didn't) and claimed that he had made "very serious allegations against a group of dedicated professionals" and complained that it was wrong to "make allegations like this" without first bring the matter to the attention of the hospital. Francesca Thompson, the director of nursing at RUH, was similarly upset and said nurses were "devastated" at the Lord Mancroft's comments.
The Royal College of Nursing weighed into the argument to assert that the peer's comments were "grossly unfair on nurses across the UK" and amounted to a "sexist insult about the behaviour of British women", whilst for the government the Health Minister Ben Bradshaw claimed that Mancroft had "abused his position" and "used his platform as a hereditary peer to make this outrageous allegation against nurses". Neither did the Lord Mancroft receive much in the way of support from his own side, who were also at pains to distance himself from his comments. According to The Times the Leader of the Conservative Party, David Cameron was "swift to act". Cameron, who was attending the Welsh Conservative conference in Llandudno at the time, was apparently "very cross" and that the Lord Mancroft "should think more carefully before opening his mouth", and that his own experience of the NHS was "completely different" and that nurses did a "fantastic job", in often "difficult circumstances". He despatched the Lord Strathclyde to deliver a strong rebuke to the Lord Mancroft and make it clear that his views were not shared by the Conservative Party.
Of course the Lord Mancroft's unpardonable sin was that he had broken one of the unwritten laws of British political discourse, which is that one does not criticise the nursing profession, who are all of course angels and grossly underpaid and doing a fantastic job in difficult circumstances, whilst naturally no one took the slightest notice of the praise that he had heaped upon the Chelsea and Westminster Hospital in London and its "marvellous" nurses. It was also probably unwise for him to have said that the behaviour of the offending nurses was an "accurate reflection of many young women in Britain today", thereby breaking yet another unwritten law of British political discourse, by implying that women were in some way capable of behaviour that was morally questionable.
For his own part the Lord Mancroft defended himself on the BBC Today
programme when he pointed out that "I did not complain about any hospital - I never mentioned it. In fact, I didn't complain at all. I was pointing out a fact", and that he was, after all, only describing his own personal experience of patient care at one hospital in Brown's Britain. The Daily Telegraph
also reminded everyone that back in 2005 the Channel 4
documentary series had run an undercover investigation into the state of some of the country's hospitals including the RUH Bath, which allegedly uncovered evidence that some its nurses failed to abide by the most basic of health precautions and frequently ignored calls for help from patients. Others noted that this was the same RUH that was fined £80,000 in March 2007 for failing to carry out basic maintenance of its water system which resulted in the death of one of its patients who contracted legionnaires' disease
Curiously enough, one Judith Morris, the deputy director of nursing at the Stockport NHS foundation trust, recently felt it neccessary to run training courses for nurses in order to educate them on what was termed "appropriate behaviour", and included the advice that they should smile at patients, talk quietly at night and avoid discussing their personal lives within patients' earshot.
- Hansard for the 28 February 2008
Cameron Condemns RUH Attack Peer, Bath Chronicle, 29 February 2008
- Katie Franklin and Lucy Cockcroft, Tory peer Lord Mancroft defends attack on 'grubby' nurses, Daily Telegraph,
- Philip Webster, Nurses denounced as dirty, lazy drunks, The Times, March 1, 2008
- Anger over grubby nurses 'slur', BBC News, 29 February 2008
- Daniel Martin, Cameron hits out at Tory peer who branded NHS nurses 'grubby, drunken and promiscuous'
Daily Mail, 1st March 2008
- Jenny McCartney, Nurses: the angels who fell from grace?, Daily Telegraph, 02/03/2008