So the message that’s been heard loud and clear since the Francis report into care failings at Mid Staffordshire Foundation Trust is that nurses lack compassion. Indeed, a much-covered part of the government’s Francis response was to insist prospective nurses spend a year working as healthcare assistants before starting degrees.
This suggested they would otherwise miss out on learning how to spend time with patients.
Well this week sees the publication of Unison’s annual nursing survey, and it indicates that many qualified nurses aren’t familiar with spending time with patients - because they are so under-resourced that they don’t have enough time to do so.
The survey (see page 2) was a snapshot of NHS staffing on 4 March 2014. It wasn’t a Monday, when staff play catch-up dealing with weekend admissions, and there were no extraordinary problems affecting the service. Yet despite this, 51% of just under 3,000 respondents working that day told the union they did not have enough staff to provide dignified, compassionate care.
And how’s this for compassion? The nurses told Unison they were collectively working countless hours of unpaid overtime that day. Half said they worked through their breaks and after their shift had finished. Despite that, 66% still said they didn’t have enough time with patients, and of those 55% said they left care undone.
Nurses are expected to continue providing compassionate care, but they are forced to work under extremely stressful conditions and are constantly under-resourced
Worryingly, nearly half the respondents (48%) feared their trust was so under-resourced that it could be another Mid Staffs.
More worrying still is that just over half (51%) were not confident about raising concerns. In a post-Francis era, when the importance of listening to staff has been demonstrated all too clearly, this is shocking. Unfortunately, it’s typical of what our Speak Out Safely campaign has shown. Only one in four acute trusts have so far pledged their commitment to supporting staff who raise concerns.
The Unison survey also mirrors the staffing survey Nursing Times carried out a year after the Francis report in February. In this survey of 526 nurses, 33% felt staffing levels had deteriorated in the past year - and over half felt their ward was dangerously understaffed.
Nurses are expected to continue providing compassionate care, but no one offers them any degree of compassion. Many of them are continually forced to work under extremely stressful conditions and are constantly under-resourced.
If policy makers really want care to be uniformly excellent, it’s time to think about the nurses providing it. And instead of looking for ways to pass the buck to nurses, it’s time to find ways of enabling them to provide the care that Unison’s survey confirms they so dearly want to.
Jenni Middleton, editor
firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow me on Twitter @nursingtimesed