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EXPERT OPINION

'Despite difficult circumstances, nurses strive to create a festive atmosphere'

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Would the duck fit? Well, it would have to.

Would it be enough? Well, it would have to be.

The two-ring baby Belling and its modest oven was pressed into service as never before.

My parents and a grandmother were stealing up the empty M11 to the nurses’ home. It was Boxing Day and time for this bit of the family to unite in my tiny bedsit over a late lunch. I had just worked an early shift and was weaving my culinary magic to create a festive meal and to shift a gear into the spirit of Christmas.

My early shift had been draining. The last thing I wanted to do was cook. Neither did I want to be on my own. The conundrum was resolved when I reflected on the effort my family had put into being with me which I naturally wanted to reciprocate with a memorable meal.

”I reflected on the effort my family had put into being with me which I naturally wanted to reciprocate”

In fact my thoughts weren’t much different from those of my patients that morning. Most of them probably wanted to be elsewhere and in the company of their loved ones. And there were some who were too ill to care beyond registering the abundance of food they couldn’t eat and the twinkle of tinsel around name badges they couldn’t read.

It’s a great tradition at this festive time for nurses and their colleagues to create an extra specially warm and caring atmosphere for their patients. And it is always worth the effort. Whatever the circumstances and the hidden cost to yourself and your family, grateful patients and their relatives will realise you have, as always, done your best.

”There are more nurses on the NMC register working outside the NHS than in it”

But my patients, all those years ago, recovered from their surgery and acute illnesses and went home. Now that I don’t work in a hospital I am much more conscious that there is another world of nursing and complex care. There are more nurses on the NMC register working outside the NHS than in it and many of those are rising daily to the challenges of working in the care sector: a sector that has many more beds than the NHS.

These nurses and their colleagues are caring for people who are often in extreme old age, vulnerable and frail.

They might be in places designated as care homes with nursing, but these are their own homes. The nurses and the staff who selflessly care for them, cook and clean for them are the guests in the residents’ homes.

It’s a really rewarding and challenging style of nursing.

Some might find it isolating not being surrounded by lots of other professionals with bleeps and stethoscopes but therein lays a great deal of nursing expertise, responsibility and autonomy.

And there are people at the other end of the age spectrum. I am reminded of my visit to the Castel Froma specialist care centre. There the needs were so varied, mostly related to brain injuries, the age range so wide (from 18 to 92) and ever-changing clinical conditions need expert judgements about how to adjust care plans with the most appropriate interventions.

And yet it is also completely personalised.

”Those who are there for long periods are encouraged to personalise their rooms”

Those who are there for long periods are encouraged to personalise their rooms. There was the Stars and Stripes room (one wall being a huge US flag – with glow-in-the-dark stars), the purple room and the “sexy pink” room (sexy pink being what the colour on the paint chart was called and chosen by a 92-year-old because she loved its name). I wonder what they have done to create a festive feel?

Reflecting on my early days as a staff nurse on that Boxing Day forces me to recognise the sharp contrast between the style of care then with the pace of care now.

”What is clear is that there is not likely to be a reduction in the need for care”

Last year was hard financially and 2016 is going to be more challenging. What is clear though is that there is not likely to be a reduction in the need for care and there will still be fantastic nurses and others providing it.

Nurses and those in their care enjoy a special relationship and, at this special time of the year, I am grateful that everyone will strive in spite of very difficult circumstances at times to create an atmosphere of care that we would want for ourselves and loved ones.
 

David Foster is Head of the Nursing, Midwifery and Allied Health Professions Policy Unit, Department of Health

 

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