This week’s guest publication is Nursing Times.
It has a Comment article with the heading “It is fair to assume a link between back injury and nurses and patient obesity.” Well, after reading it, you would have to say “it isn’t fair to assume ..etc” There is no evidence in the article to support that conclusion.
It’s getting blogged here just because the argument typifies the increasingly common demonisation of fat people on spurious medical grounds, but from a new direction- obesity isn’t just dangerous to oneself- it threatens others.
The writer refers to HSE statistics on rates of back disorders suffered by nurses and nursing auxiliaries. If one actually examines the HSE data, the rates (31 per 100,000 for nurses and 44 per 100,000 for nursing auxiliaries, in the period from 2003/2005) come with such huge confidence intervals as to be little more than generally indicative of the comparative risks of different jobs. There is no evidence presented here to suggest that these rates are notably higher than those in previous years but this would surely be the first requirement, if the figures are to support an argument that patients are getting heavier and, therefore, healthcare workers are getting injured more.
The only connection made between nurses back pain and obesity is the unsupported assertion that
“It seems fair to assume that some of these cases could be attributed to nurses moving and handling patients who are obese”
Why? Unless this is an assertion on the lines of “It is fair to assume that some of these cases involve nurses moving men with beards” or “women wearing green nightdresses”, it is only being made here so as to imply that obese people are at least a major cause of nurses’ back injuries.
The writer dismisses the argument – attributed to the Royal College of Nursing advisor on work injuries – that there are no statistics linking a rise in patient weight to an increase in nurses’ back pain, as meaning that the “the situation remains unclear.” Another reading would be a simple “there is NO evidence to suggest that patients are getting heavier and that this is injuring more healthcare workers.”
However, this would challenge the whole premise of the article. Hence the writer sees it only as evidence of the need for research spending on the topic. I think that a certain amount of research spending is probably also needed to identify whether people with unattractive pyjamas contribute to depression in healthcare staff, or whether giving people too many drinks in hospital is overstressing nurses who have to take patients to the toilet too often. But, hey, the research budget is limited.
Nurses have notoriously always been subject to back pain and have had high rates of back injury. Their jobs involve constant lifting and bending and twisting. This is a general occupational health issue that should certainly be addressed in every possible way.
So why pick out one section of the patient population and blame them? Because obesity is the new self-inflicted illness. It would seem churlish to blame people suffering from cancer or meningitis for the occupational diiseases their carers suffer. But we can blame people for being over whatever the currently-defined ideal weight is.
The obese are fast becoming the perfect scapegoats for everything. We hate them. Even when they are in hospital they are still the cause of all manner of ills, such as injury to nurses.
Socially, you can see this as acting in the same way that scapegoat rituals always act, according to anthropological literature. We can put things we hate about ourselves and our society onto a sacrificial victim and then get rid of them. Greed, idleness, wastefulness and so on. We can combine moral and aesthetic judgements and feel better about ourselves because we don’t fit into the demonised category.
But wait, the definition of the ideal weight is shrinking all the time. More and more of us fit into the excluded category or fear fitting into it. So we come to hate ourselves in the end anyway.
So more and more of us start eating the ritual foods and not eating the unclean foods and doing the ritual observances. Despite the fact that there is no evidence that any of it will work.
Please don’t join in, nurses. You don’t need to join in taunting the obese just to get us to recognise that your backs need protection.