Assessment is not the answer.

Anyone who’s been through or worked in the state education system over the last decade and a half or so will be familiar with New Labour’s testing obsession, and with its outcomes: stressed children and pressurised teachers, the suppression of creative, independent thought in favour of repetitive box-ticking and further marginalisation of the schools which fail to “perform” thanks to the publication and prioritisation of league tables.

Sadly, it looks as though they’re about to apply the same disastrous practice to nursing:

The health secretary, Alan Johnson, wants the performance of every nursing team in every ward across England to be measured, with the results published on an official website.

Johnson said he wanted to promote friendly rivalry between wards over which nursing team could achieve the highest score. Trusts might decide to offer a reward to the top nursing team, but that would be a matter for local management.

The government wants to publish each trust’s overall nursing quality score, to inform patients when they are choosing where to be treated. The scheme will be piloted and first results are likely to emerge next year.

Yes, you read that right, instead of receiving the pay, support and working conditions they deserve, nurses are going to be subject to the same competitive, stress-inducing (and no doubt paperwork intensive) monitoring systems that teachers have to endure while trying to get on and do their job. But it’s ok, folks, because it’s all in the name of our favourite false friend, choice. As if choice is any replacement for quality care…

Now, of course anyone doing any job should be monitored to make sure they’re doing it well. But Johnson’s project reminds me of transport secretary Ruth Kelly’s latest scheme to sort out congestion and accidents on my local main road, the A14: a multi-million pound information system to inform drivers of congestion ahead so we can “choose” a different route. Rather than tackling the causes of the problems in our public services, the government just wants to be seen to be doing something, and uses individualism and choice as its nifty excuse.

In the case of nursing, we all stand to lose out. Struggling hospitals – and workers – don’t need public humiliation, they need funding and support.

As in many traditionally feminine sectors where workers put up with poor wages and working conditions in their desire to do a job that helps others, nurses are being let down by a society that values the production of wealth above all else, and by a government that cares more about the rhetoric of choice and far-from socialist concepts of competition than the people who are actually willing to get their hands dirty.

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