In search of nursing : the long-term impact of the New Zealand health reforms on ward nursing : a thesis presented in fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in Nursing at Massey University, Manawatu, New Zealand
This thesis began with my curiosity about why, despite repeated attention to nurses’ health assessment skills (at undergraduate and professional development level), it has remained an under-utilised skill. A focused ethnography was conducted in six acute wards of a provincial New Zealand hospital. Twelve registered nurses were observed and interviewed in the first phase of the research and multiple additional primary data sources were utilised. Early findings indicated that nurses did not undertake health assessment and raised much broader questions about the nature of ward nursing practice and the amount of control ward nurses have over their work environment and their own nursing practice. The research was extended to include seven stakeholders, senior nurses who had good insight and knowledge of ward nursing practice. A structuration theory lens was applied to assist in the analytic process.
The findings of this research reveal the long-term impact of the NZ health reforms on ward nursing practice. The introduction of generic management principles and the continuous restructuring of the health care environment have impacted on nursing practice and reduced nurses’ autonomy. Nurses have come to rely on standardised documented processes to provide essential care, relying significantly less on knowledge of a patient’s actual health status.
Much recent local and international quantitative research has revealed a number of concerning findings about the reduced time nurses spend at the bedside, the complexity of nursing work flow, the increase in interruptions, missed nursing care, and the vital role nurses have in preventing many adverse events and unexpected deaths. This thesis provides a rich qualitative understanding of the circumstances behind these quantitative findings and reveals that nurses are now struggling to provide care consistent with the ethos of nursing. I argue that challenging the nature of nurse education will not improve nurses’ ability to deliver nursing care. Instead I argue that the current acute ward environment does not support registered nurses to provide the nature of care for which their education has prepared them.