Nurses are stressed. You’re not looking too shocked at that news… don’t blame you.
The results of our survey this week hardly surprised us either. Extensive studies carried out over the past few decades have shown time and time again how stressful a job nursing can be. Being surrounded by illness, dependency and death is mentally draining, and add that to the physically demanding aspects of some nursing roles and you have a recipe for an exhausted and stressed-out workforce. Nurses at last month’s Unison conference told us they are often penalised for being ill, and disciplined when it all gets too much for them. Or make themselves more ill, because in today’s environment, nurses often don’t want to admit that they can’t cope with the pressure.
The culture that exists in many trusts makes nurses feel disempowered and disengaged. Targets and measurable outcomes are vital for an accountable health service, but they can create tension between multidisciplinary teams as they try not to be the one to blame for a breach. And nurses have told us that targets can create a top-down environment of relentless bullying, with staff who care more about the numbers than the patients.
Little wonder that when nursing comes into the spotlight in yet another television documentary we see some nurses failing to care. The very skills they were employed for have been driven out of them. Believing that the targets are more important than how patients feel, they find themselves unable to take control, to make decisions that benefit the patient, and so they survive by ignoring the details and just going through the motions.
Of course there are masses of excellent staff doing a phenomenal job. But employers should ensure those that are still putting their patients’ meal trays out of reach or failing to ensure a patient takes their medication are motivated and supported to improve the care they give. Not by targets but by praise, good examples of practice and great occupational health services.