NZNO's Blog

We can’t afford to ignore nurses’ cries for help

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colour-103This blog was originally published by New Zealand Doctor, and is kindly reblogged here with their permission. Thanks New Zealand Doctor for continuing to highlight nursing issues both here and overseas!

By Barbara Docherty

It’s not really in my nature but I feel a bit like the doomsday merchant at present.

As soon as I write about nursing in any form, a little flurry of emails arrives in my inbox often indicating unhappy nurses. This latest alert from the UK worryingly has shades of what nurses are articulating in different forms here in New Zealand, and about which I have written on previous occasions.

‘Skint, shaken and yet still caring’

This recent major survey in the UK with the intriguing title “Skint, shaken and yet still caring”, followed more than 2200 responses from nurses, midwives and healthcare assistants about financial hardship and deprivation, domestic abuse, health, illness, wellbeing and employment uncovering what has been referred to as “worrying facts”.

It identified that nurses are twice as unlikely as the general public to be unable to afford basic necessities such as beds, decent shoes, washing machines, keeping their homes warm or eating two meals a day.

They are three times more likely to suffer domestic abuse than the general public, 14 per cent of them victims of domestic abuse in the last year. This compares with a national average of 4.4 per cent.

Physical and mental illness

The report also found that two in five nurses, midwives and healthcare assistants have a long-term physical or mental illness that limits their day-to-day activity and is expected to last longer than a year.

The survey questions on domestic abuse matched those used in the 2012-13 crime survey for England and Wales carried out by that government’s official statistics body. They came out a week after a Sunday paper revealed 14 per cent of nurses have applied for payday loans, laying bare the hardship faced by NHS staff.

The United Kingdom’s Royal College of Nursing responded by saying it “painted a shocking picture of the hardships” faced by some nurses and midwives. The nursing support charity Cavell Nurses’ Trust which commissioned the research, has branded the findings as “appalling”.

Foolish to dismiss survey results

There are no suitable words to describe the significance of these findings. Some might say it is a relatively small sample in a country the size of the UK.

It will likely be dismissed by others in New Zealand as nothing much to do with us. But closing our minds to the strong possibility that this likely mirrors what some nurses are experiencing in New Zealand is tantamount to foolishness.

I find it disturbing. It’s another reminder that, when I blogged some months ago in New Zealand Doctor about nurses here admitting to taking anti-anxiety or antidepressant medication, some attempting suicide or experiencing suicidal thoughts, it hit a strong chord because nurses were speaking their realities.

One dissenter

Yet a week after that blog was published, I received an email (from whom I still don’t know) asking me to back off, to stop raising the issue because it was stirring fear when only a handful of nurses would be affected anyway.

The United Kingdom study has not been replicated here to my knowledge so we don’t have specific NZ data. But nurses throughout the world are coping with strained health services and this report highlights the reality of a nurse’s working life and the impact on home life or vice versa.

It once again shows that nurses keep going in spite of often physical and mental health issues that can be damaging in the short or long term to both themselves and their patients. Canada and the United States have also identified many similar issues with their nurses and we ignore all these findings at our peril.

I have been receiving a constant trickle of emails over many weeks since writing that blog and as I write this one, another email has just arrived from a nurse now considering the role of nurse practitioner but needing to know if he is “doing the right thing”.

Scared to join general practice

He says, “My brother is a GP and feels it is time to leave his profession as it is all getting too much for him. For me I don’t want to accept that nurses don’t support nurses but I have yet to be entirely convinced and I don’t want to embark on a NP journey if I am anxious about the lack of support mechanisms if I end up with physical and mental health problems.”

And unfortunately, we don’t have the equivalent in New Zealand of the UK Cavell Nurses’ Trust which has supported nurses, midwives and health assistants in many different ways since being founded in 1917 after British nurse Edith Cavell was executed in 1915 for helping to evacuate 200 Allied soldiers in Belgium.

Speaking on behalf of nurses

If I am sounding as if I am stirring the pot of negativity, tell that to the nurses who email me simply because they do not know where else to turn to vent or get assistance.

While DHBs provide access to confidential counselling by independent professionals as part of their Employee Assistance Programme to help nurses work through stress, anxiety and depression, as well as personal and financial issues, what is evident is that many nurses don’t reach out and take this important step believing little will change for them post-counselling anyway.

Skint and shaken? That’s probably only the half of it.

2 thoughts on “We can’t afford to ignore nurses’ cries for help

  1. There are many nurses in NZ sharing the same struggles as those in the UK. I have been working in the Healthcare profession for nearly 40 years. Our pay and conditions have been deteriorating over the last 20 years yet more is expected of us professionally. I personally identify with this article also and have had many similiar stories, like this article, shared with me.

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