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Nurses at risk of 'compassion fatigue'


Being asked to treat patients in unsuitable conditions could make nurses desensitised to poor care, the Royal College of Nursing has warned.

Responding to Nursing Times’ survey, which revealed 63 per cent of nurses said patients were being treated in areas not designed for clinical care, RCN policy director Howard Catton said: “If people are consistently and over a period of time having to work in these ways, where they feel that because of the throughput pressure they are not able to give good care, then you start to normalise it.

“Compassion fatigue sets in and you get to a point where this becomes normal. You start to make move down a road where people don’t speak out – they won’t challenge it.”

It was a concern in relation to the scandal at Mid Staffordshire Foundation Trust, he said, where some have asked why more nurses did not take their concerns further at an earlier stage.

Many of the nurses responding to Nursing Times’ survey said they raised concerns but changes were not made, or they were rebuffed.

National Patient Safety Agency director of patient safety Suzette Woodward said: “What concerns me most is that people don’t feel they are able to speak up or being listened to. A culture where people feel they are listened to is crucial.”

The Nursing and Midwifery Council is consulting on guidance to support would-be whistleblowers.

Director of standards and registrations Roger Thompson said: “Nurses are sometimes required to make the best of very difficult circumstances. However, in situations where problems in the environment are putting people at risk, they have a professional duty to report their concerns in writing.”

Unison head of health Karen Jennings said: “Patients should not be put in makeshift arrangements where they may not get the care and attention they need.

“Too often hospitals are using these arrangements to bypass targets in A&E. Sadly, we are hearing of some hospitals closing wards, which will only make the situation worse.”

Mr Catton said the problem was likely to be increasing because of demand and length of stay reductions, meaning patients are expected to move in and move out more quickly.


Readers' comments (5)

  • The hospital where I practice said two years ago that putting extra beds on wards was unacceptable and would not happen again. On a number of occasions this practice has reappeared. How can you advertise privacy and dignity when patients are cared for in the middle of a bay with no screens around them? All to meet government set A and E targets. It embarrasses me that patient safety is being compromised for the sake of these targets. Beds are being cut but people are living longer and are requiring more episodes of acute care? We aim to give a high standard of care to our patients bit with less beds and less nursing staff how can we do this? Nurses are struggling under the pressure.

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  • 'at risk'?
    'asked to ...'?
    'may not get the care'?

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  • This is only one reason Nurses may get compassion fatigue.

    There are far too many patients, nowhere near enough staff, too much workload, being expected to do jobs far outside our remit because noone else is available with little or no thanks, crap pay, being underappreciated by staff and the public who we treat, abuse from patients, no support from 'management' for any problems, the bullying culture, ridiculously long hours, compounded with unpaid and unthanked overtime that we are 'expected' to do (because if we don't jobs get left undone and patients are at risk of course), constant annoying 'initiatives' from management and the fecking government that do nothing but increase our workload, constant stories in the press that Nurses essentially are all pure evil and the NHS is killing everyone, crap pay, crap pay, and crap pay. etc etc etc.

    I'm sure people could add many more too this list but I couldn't be bothered.

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  • Ditto to the above comment - well said.
    I echo and agree with the other comments here. I live and work in the west country where bed numbers have been desimated over the last few years, always with the mantra that they are no longer required as people get treatment and care nearer home!! Utter tosh, its money pure and simple - good care is a side effect not the true aim! Year on year lack of capacity is a major problem - hence patients without bed spaces. The winter pressures are now a year long problem, but still we are fed the same old rubbish. I just wish some of our managers would stand up and say enough is enough...but that is a risky stance to take as they only want yes people in this arena.

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  • when are we going to see an end to .Management obsession with achieving set targets,both in patient flow and finances, is the most prominent cause of reduced quality of care and paient dissatisfaction.They totally ignore the logistics of bed allocation ,if you have 100 beds you cannot stretch them to 200 patients -simple arithmetic.And it solves no problem to discharge too early to accomodate more.
    In our trust the patients appear to be in a revolvng door siuation -many being re-admitted because they were discharged too early in orderto maintain the flow.
    However it is false to say that nurses have a compassion deficit -in my experience- we know what is wrong and we still strive to provide quality care.Obviously it is becoming more and more dificult to do this in the current climate but it is insulting to say that nurses normalise the situation, because we definetly do not.
    The main problem we are faced with is that money is a priority over patient care -rgo it is the managemnt who are normalising lack of care and compassion.

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