No occupation in Britain inspires greater public admiration than nursing.
And yet in recent years, the profession has gone desperately wrong. A report this week by the Patients Association reveals that since 2002, up to a million patients have experienced shockingly poor standards of nursing care in the NHS.
Some were not fed; others were left in soiled bedclothes.
As a former nurse, I believe the essential problem is an institutional failure of training and ethos.
When I embarked on my career in 1977, the vast majority of the training was based on practical experience. Instruction was carried out in a school of nursing, attached to the hospital.
Just a quarter of the course was academic study. Three-quarters was spent working with patients, whose care should be a nurse's primary concern.
Back then, when nurses qualified, they had already gained a thorough, hands-on understanding of medicine - and, most importantly, of their patients.
No longer. In the early Nineties, the government wrecked a perfectly good system by launching Project 2000 - an initiative that was meant to give nursing a stronger professional foundation by emphasising the academic over the practical.
Student nurses were removed from the hospitals and trained in lecture halls, rather than wards.
Many less glamorous, but vital elements of nursing care - such as cleaning, feeding or lifting patients - dropped off the syllabus and were replaced by empty, jargon-filled theorising about 'holistic care' and 'cultural sensitivities'.
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