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Nurses working in acute medicine warn of recruitment problems


Almost three quarters of senior nurses working in acute medical units have experienced problems filling shifts, according to the results of a survey by the Society of Acute Medicine.

Just under a quarter of nurse managers who responded to a survey said they had often or always struggled to fill vacant shifts with registered nurses, while 42% reported occasional difficulties.

In addition, 45% of respondents reported difficulties recruiting nurses for permanent positions in AMUs.

The findings from the survey, which was carried out in 2010-11, form the basis of a research paper presented to the society’s spring meeting in Coventry yesterday.

Its authors warned the findings could mean many units were frequently working with fewer staff than necessary.

They recommend rotas be introduced to take account the potential for burnout of nurses working in AMUs with a high turnover of emergency patients, and that time should be made for continuing professional development.

Although survey respondents were broadly positive about working in acute medicine – 85% said they would choose the specialism again if they were starting their career over – many highlighted that the specialism was not well recognised.

The paper said it was also a “significant cause for concern” that the majority of respondents felt there was a lack of opportunities for career progression.

Lead author Liz Lees, a consultant nurse in acute medicine at Birmingham’s Heartlands Hospital, said: “This is the first research of its kind which specifically focuses upon nurses who work in acute medicine.

“It provides an insight into current issues, but crucially, it also provides ‘advance notice’ and with this an opportunity to shape the future nursing workforce.”

Society president Dr Chris Roseveare said: “Nurses are the linchpin of every acute medical unit; it is essential that we develop and sustain a high quality nursing workforce in acute medicine.

“This research has identified some vital factors which are needed to ensure the recruitment and retention of this key group of hospital staff.”

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Readers' comments (5)

  • Not enough nurses - now why might that be?

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  • sounds like a horrendous conveyor belt system. patients in, get them through all the diagnostic tests, start treatment and send them packing on their way leaving the bed for the next one, no matter what vital signs may be missed, and as for care that can be totally forgotten. patients must feel more like sacks of potatoes being dragged through such an inhumane system.

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  • Nothing wrong with acute medicine, in fact it is very important area of healthcare. But AMUs feels like a very tough place for the patients staying there and staff trying to deliver care there. Patient acuity can be quite varied and may have complex issues underlying their acute symptoms.
    When patients' deteriorate, it has a knock on effect on all other patients' care. Then they could deteriorate too. Nurse:Patients ratios at that point goes right out of the window and the whole ward is potentially unsafe. Its not uncommon for two or more patients to deteriorate at the same time.
    It might be better reducing the numbers of beds to about same as the number of A&E trolleys.
    Patients shouldn't stay in AMUs for long. Enough time for their acute symptoms to be brought under better control, before moving onto specialist care beds relevant to their needs and rehabilitation. It would be far better for patients to go straight into the right department or discharged back into community if appropriate. However due to the lack of proper investment and resources, this government's plans of patients care in the community is just rhetoric.
    It feels like compassion and care are being beaten out of the nurses clinical practice, and now too apathetic to do anything about it - such as raising concerns when required. Hence the burning out and turnover of AMU nurses.
    If they want recruitment and retention, much better all round support and development of frontline hands-on nurses is what's required. If senior nurses aren't also regularly hands-on, but stay in the offices due to increasing amounts of administration, they will soon lose touch with direct patient care + needs and less visible to their colleagues, which in turn reduces effectiveness to deal with staffing and resourcing issues.
    If the nurses aren't looked after, then who's there to care for patients? the auditors and politicians?
    Well ran AMUs are a great place to deliver excellent patient care, meeting patients needs, loads of learning and development opportunities and a much less stressful place for staff to work in.

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  • Problems with recruitment was the article title but the same comments on not enough staff on the wards. Cut backs to blame or do nurses not want to work for NHS anymore? Cut-backs I think but it may soon be the later reason as moral is low and will get worse if Assisted Dying or euthanasia comes into law, Nothing more demoralising than having to kill patients, esp of not actually dying.

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  • our AMU although it was a brilliantly run unit and a fascinating and challenging place for those who worked there it was generally known by other specialisations as the 'dustbin of the hospital'. Perhaps not the best light to present it in when trying to attract new recruits! Another example of the dangers stereotyping and labelling.

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