Exhausted and over-worked Merseyside nurses say they are being forced to drink Red Bull and diabetic glucose shots to stay awake on shift. Several members of NHS staff at hospitals in the region told the ECHO the tough reality of caring for the most vulnerable patients amidst crippling funding cuts. The shocking accounts come as damning survey suggests almost half of nurses in Merseyside have felt unwell due to stress in the workplace.
A Merseyside healthcare assistant told the ECHO: “I’m always drinking Red Bull, it’s the only drink in the hospital that has sugar in it.
“There’s these drinks you’d give people if their blood sugar is low and they’ve changed the sugar content of them so the hospital doesn’t use them any more, they’re glucose shots and they’re literally like a shot full of sugar and we would just take them because you’re literally that tired. We definitely can’t give the level of care we want to.”
“Nurse broke down crying at 10am”
One nurse, who didn’t want to be named, said: “A nurse came in and she’s working on a busy ward, she’s nearly 60, she’s exhausted mentally and physically, she ended up crying by half ten in the morning. The shift had literally only started. She was like ‘sorry, I’m just so stressed’. She still went on and finished her shift, but even for patients to see that they must think what is actually going on?”
Approximately 1.1million NHS employees in England were invited to participate in the survey between September 2017 and November 2017, with staff sent a paper questionnaire or an email containing a link to an online questionnaire.
The findings also show that staff feel they can’t give the level of care they aspire to and the workload they are taking on is actually making them ill.
One in seven members of staff at Royal Liverpool and Broadgreen said they rarely or never look forward to going to work, while it was also one in seven at both Aintree University Hospital and Liverpool Women’s.
Almost two-fifths of staff at some trusts said they had felt unwell due to work-related stress in 2017, including 38.8% at Alder Hey, 38.3% at the Clatterbridge Cancer Centre, and 35.9% at Aintree University Hospital.
“My younger sister said, ‘Why do you never complain?!’ And I said, who is going to listen?”
A nurse from the Royal Liverpool Hospital told the ECHO the workload is leaving some nurses at breaking point, she said one nurse is often left to look after up to nine patients alone.
She said: “It’s just way too much, they don’t split the workload at all, the amount of patients we’re supposed to look after is just ridiculous, I don’t know how they think we can cope. We have to work through our lunch breaks a lot.”
One nurse also told us that there is no help for nurses who are stressed and the burden often falls on spouses and families to emotionally support those struggling as a result of workplace stress.
She said: “It’s so stressful a job sometimes and it’s so unsupportive, there’s no support internally, you come into a job and you’re expected to be ok with people dying, you’re expected to just see all these things and be ok with it. No-one’s there to support you or talk about it.
“In the hospital, if you have a patient and they die, you have to carry on like nothing happened.
“If it’s someone you’ve looked after for a while it literally feels like someone you know. My younger sister is uni now and she’s saying how hard it is so I told her about my job and she said, ‘Why do you never complain?!’ And I said, who is going to listen?”
“You get the same pay as a McDonald’s worker - you’ve got people’s lives in your hands”
One nurse said: “If you’re a band five nurse, you’re on the same wage as not even a manager but an assistant manager of McDonald’s or Home Bargains. And that’s no disrespect to those jobs but when I qualify, fully I’ll be on around £19,000 a year to work at least 37.5 hours a week. How is that adequate pay for the job? You’ve literally got people’s lives in your hands.”
Lisa Grant, executive chief nurse at Royal Liverpool and Broadgreen University Hospitals NHS Trust, said: “We monitor nursing staff ratios across all our wards throughout each day and we encourage nursing staff to raise any concerns with the nursing team so we can identify any issues and provide support.”
“We recognise that the pressures we have faced recently have been extremely stressful. We have a range of measures to support staff through our stress management policy and provide staff with a confidential staff support service.
“The NHS as a whole has seen unprecedented demand in recent years, each hospital has nursing vacancies and we have had two extremely challenging winters. The way our staff, particularly our nursing staff, have risen to the challenges has been amazing and they deserve all our praise.”
One of the biggest increases found in the survey compared to last year was in dissatisfaction with levels of pay, rising from 33.0% saying they were dissatisfied or strongly dissatisfied in 2016 at the Clatterbridge Cancer Centre to 43.9% in 2017, and from 40.6% to 50.5% at Southport and Ormskirk, while 49.0% of staff at Aintree University Hospital were dissatisfied.
Bodies representing NHS staff have said the latest survey should act as a warning to the government that staff are working under “impossible conditions” and that their goodwill and dedication could not be “a replacement for adequate funding and proper workforce planning”.
“Good will doesn’t pay your bills”
The nurse added: “People ask me why the hell do I do it but the good days where your patients really appreciate you are the best days ever.
“The NHS are saving their money on nurses who fit the stereotype of a typical nurse, really nice, really lovely. You’re expected to work really hard for really little pay because you’re a nurse and that’s just what you do. It doesn’t make sense, good will doesn’t pay your bills.”
The Royal Hospital nurse told us: “It sounds awful but I have met nurses while I was still training and they’ve said to me ‘I don’t even know why you want to be a nurse because it is absolutely ridiculous right now’ and that hurt me, that knocked me back because a nurse is all I’ve ever wanted to be. But I understand why they said it.”
Estephanie Dunn, regional director for the Royal College of Nursing in the North West, said: “The recent NHS staff survey has highlighted a huge amount of issues right across the NHS and this mirrors the feedback we are hearing from our members.
“In September 2017, the RCN published a report into safe staffing levels in which over 30,000 of our members felt compelled to tell us in a survey that they felt their last shift was short staffed and some stated it felt unsafe.”
“Dementia patients were climbing out of their beds trying to hit me - it wasn’t safe”
The low number of staff manning the wards is having a direct affect on not only stress, but the safety of staff.
One nurse has experienced this first hand, she told the ECHO: “I was on a bay alone with six really unwell old patients who had dementia. They were climbing out of their beds trying to hit me, all that sort of thing. It wasn’t safe for me to be there alone.”
The RCN spokeswoman added: “All of these reports and surveys are highlighting the same issues and the RCN is actively lobbying the Government, and working with Trusts around the importance of having the right number of staff to operate safely and to support service users and staff within the workplace. We have had yet another unprecedented winter with a huge demand on services and pressures faced by staff and it is clear both staff and patient care have been put in unsafe compromising situations.”
Many fear the nursing crisis could be amplified because of Brexit implications.
The nurse said: “We fear with Brexit it’s going to get worse because we’re going to lose all the international nurses, most of the Royal is full of Spanish nurses and they’ll all go home. The NHS without international nurses isn’t sustainable.”
A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “We know that NHS staff have never work harder so in a deal backed by unions including the RCN, we recently gave over 1 million staff a pay rise which will see the starting salary of a nurse rise to £24,907.
“This is on top of delivering the biggest ever increases in training places for doctors, nurses and midwives, a commitment to promote better focus on health and wellbeing, and new arrangements to help staff work more flexibly to improve work-life balance.”
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