I laughed to myself as I took this week’s online poll: ‘Do you have the habit of putting other’s needs before your own?’
I had just finished a (not much) sleepover shift and was in desperate need of a nap and a decent meal (not to mention tackling some of the to-do list you have when you are 4 weeks away from your wedding.)
Instead, I was traipsing through snow and ice to get swimming kit to a young resident before 11am. It hadn’t been in his notes that he needed it, so I hadn’t sent it. School phoned the respite centre, and the guilt that he would miss out was too much. So an hour and a half, two buses and a 2 mile walk later, there I was.
So what has this to do with politics? Well, legislation exists to protect us from working ourselves to the ground and putting the needs of others so far beyond ourselves that we neglect our own basic needs.
Surprisingly, it’s not that popular: the dreaded ‘Health and Safety’. It’s backed up by another nursing bug-bear: documentation. Good documentation would have meant my young resident would have had his swimming kit with him on the mini-bus that morning, and I would have sorted my table plans.
Adam, the student editor, made some excellent points in his blog post about ‘healthcare martyrdom’ and encouraged us to break the cycle.
Legislation about working conditions, working hours, adequate meal breaks and how much can be expected of staff all exists, but as nurses we are good at ignoring it, especially if we feel it will be to the detriment of our patients. I’m certainly not here to offer solutions, but simply highlight that the law is on our side in this situation. It can be a blurred place to be however.
Our ambulance colleagues have faced this recently.
In Scotland, a deal was struck in November where they will now be paid to take calls whilst on their breaks, after the high profile death of a Moray woman. Her nearest ambulance technician was taking a break; therefore a more distant ambulance was brought in, but was too late to save her. There are valid arguments for both sides here, but the challenges faced by healthcare staff are clear. Legal protection for our breaks may not be enough.
I wish I had answers, but some situations are more complicated than that. Look after yourselves as long as no-one else will get hurt seems a safe rule of thumb.
As for me, the to-do list will have to wait. I’m still at work.