For care providers in the community and hospitals, December doesn’t ring in with all the potential of an unopened advent calendar, with its festive scenes and chocolate promises.
We’re told this year, that if the Australian winter is anything to go by, this is going to be a terrible year for flu. That’s bad news when services are already under pressure, understaffed and under-resourced. Throw in an icy winter and a dose of norovirus – and this winter crisis could be worse than ever.
The goodwill of staff is propping up our health services. This winter, community nurses will trudge through the snow to reach patients in rural areas, and nurses on hospital wards will work longer and without breaks to cover wards and corridors filled to the brim.
The falling numbers on the Nursing and Midwifery Council’s register tell us we are burning out our nurses, and not acquiring them quickly enough, whether it is from overseas or training enough of our own here.
It is time to recognise that this system is broken. Community nursing could be one way to fix it, but, like every other sector, it is being poorly resourced and underfunded. Community nursing should not be viewed as nursing on the cheap – a less expensive option than hospitals. It is underpinned by highly skilled, holistic and autonomous nurses, and it takes skill, professionalism – and dare I say it, a commitment to continuing professional development to support the delivery of care in this way. However, that is not what is happening in the community.
”Few are prepared to acknowledge just how fragile the NHS really is”
Last week, I was on my way to a Nursing Times event near Oxford Street. The tourists were all trying to capture the idyllic festive scene, with snowflakes falling in front of the dramatic Christmas lights. I heard one girl say to her friend: “It’s not real you know, look”, as she caught a flake in her gloved hand, “it’s just foam they’re pumping out from somewhere”.
The public might see the NHS as something of an illusion like this. They see staff going to work, doing their jobs and performing miracles – and believe that the system is working and sustainable. But it’s not – and few are prepared to acknowledge just how fragile it really is and how it could melt to nothing.
Just like the snowflake in that tourist’s gloved hand.