I am a senior nurse, currently off sick following several inpatient admissions for spinal surgery. I want to share some of my experiences with you in the hope that they will stimulate both celebration and reflection
I recently spent two nights in a four-bedded bay on a ward while on bed rest. This enforced immobility meant I overheard things I would not be exposed to in a single room. On more than one occasion, as I lay in bed, I witnessed some excellent nursing care in action, which filled me with pride. Sadly, though, I also overheard difficult things that I was powerless to do anything about. I found it distressing wanting to intervene in others’ care but knowing I shouldn’t or couldn’t because I was there as a patient, not a nurse.
On the first night I was cared for by an excellent nurse. She had a calm and practical manner, and did small things that made me feel proud. I was aware that the ward was busy and staff were occupied with a particular patient. My fellow patients and I were waiting for medication and help to settle down to sleep, but we were pleased that the nurse made the time to come into our bay to calmly and briefly explain that they were busy. She then asked if anyone was in severe pain and needed their medicines urgently. Immediately we were on her side and happy to wait. This small act was reassuring to patients and demonstrated the importance of good communication.
On the second night I was woken by the lady in the bed next to me pressing her buzzer. There was a curtain between us so I do not know if it was a nurse or support worker who responded. The patient politely asked if anyone was going to bring her pain relief as she had been waiting since her admission to the ward, but she was told her nurse was on a break so she would have to wait. When the patient asked how long, she was told an hour.
I was very upset to hear this response and toyed with the idea of intervening, but decided not to and dropped off to sleep again. The next morning the close proximity of beds meant that, when the doctors came round, I clearly heard the same patient telling them that she had still not had any analgesia as there a problem overnight. I was shocked, having assumed her medication had at least been given later.
Adequate and timely pain relief is an essential aspect of care. If a healthcare support worker was involved rather than a registered nurse, it is vital that they know the importance of ensuring requests for pain relief are dealt with as quickly as possible.
As a nurse, being a patient is a useful way of seeing care from the patient’s perspective. But, fortunately, not all nurses will experience being a hospital patient. My experience as an inpatient reinforced two things for me. First, the importance, as referred to in the NMC code, of delivering care and treatment without undue delay. And, second, the power of reflection that can be made more powerful by putting yourself in the patient’s place.
Angela Houlston is matron, Oxford Children’s Hospital.
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