Emma Clifford: 'Care workers can reduce the burden on nurses’
Nurses, please don’t take this the wrong way, but I want to see a lot less of you.
Don’t get me wrong, I think you’re all fabulous. You’re always willing to answer questions and impart advice. You always make time to squeeze in a glance at Mrs Smith’s heel if I’m a bit worried, even though you often haven’t got a minute to spare. But every time I see you it’s because something has gone wrong, and nine times out of ten I am sure that thing could have been prevented.
As a care worker, my role isn’t to fix or to heal, but to prevent and preserve. If I am receiving anyone into my care it is probably because their health and wellbeing have taken a downward spiral. I am there to preserve people – their personality, their dignity and their wishes – for as long as they need my care. Or that’s how it should be, anyway.
‘Care work must become a fully fledged, respected profession’
Along the way, I need to be vigilant. The quality of people’s skin, the weight they gain and lose, their posture, their sleep patterns, their temper: all these things and more I must monitor daily so I am aware of any deterioration from the first moment and can act accordingly. Yet we don’t teach care workers why they must observe. Some of us know it is good practice, yet many more don’t. As a result, many warning signs are missed and therefore so are the opportunities for prevention and early intervention.
If we truly taught care workers about their power – and duty – to prevent, imagine how much of nurses’ workload I could eliminate.
At a rough estimate, I’d say that 70% of district nurse visits to my care home relate to ulcers. We know – because visiting nurses tell us – that those who spend long periods in bed need to be turned regularly.
But, while it galls me and many of my colleagues to see those in our care languishing in front of televisions hour after hour, few understand that the negative effects of this commonplace practice are physical as well as mental and emotional.
Even my understanding that it is important to get up every so often and take the pressure off the heels and bottom is vague at best – and I’ve tried to do my research.
But just think – if I had one more member of staff on each shift, we could spend some time encouraging people to do activities that got them standing, walking, or even just shifting around in their chairs. We could relieve pressure and prevent ulcers.
I reckon that extra member of staff would cost little more than the money we’d save on creams and dressings, and we’d certainly save you nurses a few visits.
That’s just one example of what better training and staffing in social care could do. And I haven’t even touched on catheters, diabetes monitoring and accident and emergency admissions.
We need to have a conversation on a national level about what prevention rather than cure really looks like – and for that conversation to be a success we must include the voices of frontline staff at all levels.
As the ageing population increases, I do not want to see nurses on their knees, struggling with ridiculous staff-to-patient ratios and diminished resources simply because those of us at the beginning of the care system didn’t take action to prevent common conditions. My work directly affects the work of nurses and all other health professionals, and that is why care work must become a fully fledged, respected profession.