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'When things are painful and others turn away, nurses stay'

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According to the Cavell Trust, for example, 61% of nurses consider themselves to be in good health compared to 74% of the general public

I adore Christmas. Every year, around the middle of September, we as a family vow to “go easy this year for Christmas and perhaps save up for a nice holiday”, yet two days later I am chopping a garden tree into small logs that can later be fashioned into ornamental reindeer with a whittling knife and a fish slicer.

Of course, we would not dream of decorating the Christmas tree before mid-December, but that doesn’t mean we might not start shopping in October. We do what lots of people do I suspect: introduce initiatives to save money this year, like growing our own Brussels sprouts and somehow imagine that 78p saving enables us to spend a trillion pounds on a watch that not only tells the time but also offers you clothes advice, tracks your location and provides debt counselling.

I fall into Christmas the way you fall into deep fresh snow and I roll around in it and laugh as much as I can, aware that laughing may be less available in January. Hell, it may be less available in August, given next year’s summer holiday will involve camping in the wooden shed at the end of the garden and calling it a Swedish lodge.

I realise that there may be something slightly desperate in the way some of us celebrate Christmas. Treating it as a mid-winter festival of shopping and ginger wine, but I don’t think there is anything wrong with that. Indeed, I think it is a good thing; that we celebrate having whatever we have, who we share things with and dare I say, celebrate what you do?

Last month, I wrote about The Cavell Nursing Trust’s report into nurses’ wellbeing. You will forgive me I hope for mentioning it again. I do so because it seems so few other places have.

It is, of course, taken for granted that nurses will be working this Christmas –they always do. Somewhere people may raise a glass to that, but in essence it has always just been taken for granted and, frankly, I can’t remember meeting many nurses who have resented that. It is their job.

However, there are other things that we appear to collectively be taking for granted that do not seem to me to be OK. According to the Cavell Trust, for example, 61% of nurses consider themselves to be in good health compared to 74% of the general public. Or to put it another way, your potential patients are statistically healthier than nurses.  Did you hear that on the news? No, me neither, it is not newsworthy it seems. Nurses are apparently only newsworthy if they are to blame for something.

Another finding was around anxiety. The nursing profession rated their anxiety at 4.93 out of 10. The general public rated theirs at 2.93 out of 10. I think it is hard to carry anxiety – generalised, freefloating and consistently buzzing anxiety – around with them. I think it is unhealthy too, but nurses do it seems. You do it, I suspect because it is perceived to be part of the job. Not specifically being anxious perhaps, but certainly suffering a little – being emotionally connected, certainly.

I think one of the things nursing does in a society is to hold difficulty. When things are hard or painful and others turn away, nurses stay. I think that invites an accumulation of difficulty, which can  threaten health and wellbeing, and I  think that even if we fail to care about that sacrifice, common sense dictates we address it in order to enable nurses who are stressed, unwell, abused or poor to both continue to nurse and to nurse well. We don’t do that by ignoring this evidence.

Happy Christmas and good health.

Mark Radcliffe is senior lecturer and author.

Follow him on Twitter @markacradcliffe

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