During the hours when most of us are asleep, in hospitals and care homes across the country, night nurses are striving to ensure the care and recovery of patients.
Nursing at night carries significant responsibilities and challenges that often go unrecognised. Nurses are caring for the same number of patients as during the day but with far fewer staff and with much less infrastructure and back up.
They are responsible for their patients when the ward is not bustling with the multidisciplinary team. In the past when hospitals hung onto less acute patients, there were some wards where working as a night nurse meant looking after a ward of sleeping patients. Times have changed and night nursing is rarely such an easy option.
As well as the challenge of the work there is the challenge on the body. A wealth of research shows the physiological toll of working when your body thinks it should be sleeping. And of course there are the social difficulties – trying to maintain a normal social and home life when your hours are so out of kilter with many others in your life.
It’s great to see that George Eliot Hospital Trust is investing £400,000 to increase the number of night nurses. It is heartening that there is currently a focus on staffing levels but I hope this will also include considering whether there are enough nurses at night. It is all too easy to pull the curtains and turn out the light on what is happening on the wards at night as most managers are not there themselves.
Part of this is to recognise the both different and difficult job that nurses do at night. And of course primarily because for the patients the experience of being in hospital is 24 hours.