Too posh to wash

I’ve just received my next quarterly edition of the student RCN newsletter thingy and one of the articles in it is about students being ‘too posh to wash’. This was a concern that was raised a few years ago regarding nurses and student nurses refusing to wash patients as “it wasn’t there job” and that “other people are employed to do that”. It seems to go hand in hand with the introduction of graduate only nursing programmes, developed to help future nurses deal with the increased pressure to take up more advanced clinical tasks and decision making; this is all while caring for an ever-increasing number of frail patients, meaning certain jobs need to be delegated to other people.

Why it’s important to wash

Getting to take part in a patient wash is not only a great privilege, but an excellent opportunity to get to know your patient from top to bottom, literally. It’s gives you a chance to have a chat with them, building up that important trusting relationship while allowing you to check your patients skin. During this time, you can assess their pressure areas and look for any skin damage from incontinence, allowing you to make relevant changes to their care, or report any issues to the relevant person. You can also assess the patient’s mobility and their ability to manage their own care and can be used to evaluate any extra needs the patient may have following discharge.

Also remember, when you’re qualified, you will be the one legally responsible for the delegation of tasks such as washing to other colleagues when you’re busy, and if you don’t know what you’re doing, how can you assess their ability to carry out that task?

When it’s okay to not wash

The modern nurse is often so busy with ‘nursing’ tasks that often they have little time take part in washing patients, which is a real shame. I know it can be incredibly frustrating when you’re three weeks into a placement and washing patients is all you feel like you’re doing. When it comes to learning there needs to be a balance, and while being taught to wash patients and everything that comes with it is essential, if you’re missing out on other opportunities then you need to speak up.

So what?

Ultimately, washing is one of the most basic nursing skills and if you don’t like doing it, maybe nursing isn’t for you. You can gain so much information about your patient, both physical and social, that ignoring this assessment tool is foolish.

Students can get stuck in between healthcaring and nursing duties, with some placement areas expecting you to do both jobs at once; in these situations, you need to be diplomatic and speak to your mentor/healthcare’s about sharing the tasks, don’t forget you’re supernumerary. I have heard horror stories of students refusing to work with healthcare’s because “they’ll just be wiping bums” and this is completely the wrong attitude. Take every opportunity to improve all of your nursing skills and embrace every aspect of the role, even the dirty bits.

Link to the online version of the RCN article is here.


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