In everyday life, we meet people and never know what is going on in their life. We simply walk on by, with the likely probability that we’re never going to see them again.
However, when people step into the hospital, we get a quick glimpse of what’s going on. Who are they? What do they do? Do they live in a flat, house or nursing home? Do we need to contact anyone close to them? Are they independent? What is their history?
Unfortunately, when people step into hospital, it is where we can often see the first signs of abuse. They’ve walked into a door or fallen down the stairs. They’re just being overprotective.
I had an incident occur in my second year. A young lady had come to the ward just before handover, having had elective surgery, and her boyfriend was by her side.
At first, I was pleased she had someone to be with but it soon turned to dread. He kept talking over her, answering questions for her as though he knew exactly what amount of pain she was in, if she was okay. He kept saying “you must do as the nurse says”. It’s a phrase I’ve heard a lot during my training and it’s often made me laugh but this time, he said it in such a way, it felt like it was a threat to my patient.
After half an hour I managed to talk him into silence. I held her hand, looked her in the eyes and asked her “are you sure you’re okay?”. She said she was fine, just tired after the surgery. Yet, I still had the feeling of dread and I felt like I hadn’t gotten the whole story.
I left and immediately notified the nurse in charge of looking after her. She told me to document what had gone on and that if I felt uncomfortable, she would take things from there and hand it over.
The nurse in charge was aware. I left that shift feeling down and powerless. It was my final shift on that placement and I would never find out what happened. I reassure myself that I did everything I was told to do and everything I could do at that moment in time.
As student nurses, we can often feel inferior, we don’t know everything yet – even though it’s impossible to know everything – and we don’t want to do the wrong thing.
Querying safeguarding often feels like a big accusation to throw at someone but in reality it’s just checking everything’s okay. Even it’s just for a peace of mind so we can go home thinking we’ve done our best.
“You can do something before it could be potentially too late”
As nurses, it is our responsibility to keep our patients safe. It’s not always domestic abuse – it can be neglect, institutional abuse, trafficking or modern slavery, sexual or physical abuse, or even financial abuse.
Abuse comes in many forms and it can be impossible to spot every single time. At my host trust, after a group talk with some of the safeguarding leads, their parting message was for us as health professionals to “trust our instincts”. If you’re wrong, you’re wrong and no one gets hurt. But what if you’re right – you could help save and protect that person from any more harm. It’s a message that’s stuck with me.
I simply want to emphasise the message that even if it’s just a small thing, if something’s niggling away at you and you can’t place it – just tell someone higher than you. Your mentor, the nurse you’re working with, someone on the ward you really get on with or the nurse in charge.
You can do something before it could be potentially too late. You’re not doing anything wrong – you’re just doing your job.
It’s hard to say don’t be afraid in such times but just trust your instincts and trust that you’re doing the right thing.