(If you were in a nurse’s shoes, what would you do? )
Those Thursday night claps are silent and long forgotten, the hand-painted rainbows colourless and faded. Our Covid ‘heroism’ seems to have been erased from history. Us nurses are about to get vilified by our government, our press, we will be called greedy, uncaring, selfish. We are about to become the victims of a campaign to smear us. A short-lived health secretary told us we should leave the profession if we’re not happy. And that is what we are doing. Leaving an over-worked, undervalued, no longer desirable profession, leaving huge gaps in this highly skilled and desperately vital workforce. Nurses don’t want to strike. For some of us the thought is making us sick, terrified. It is the thing we have refused to do for years. But we have now been forced into it.
We’ve had years of reduced funding, lack of strategic planning, lack of training. A government who lacks the humanity to hear our concerns. If we lose our nurses, we lose the heart of the NHS. The beating heart of a system which is currently failing, aged, decrepit and needs all the blood flow it can get. NHS staff are this blood flow, we are the veins and the arteries the nurses the aorta.
So, step into our shoes, imagine you are one, single nurse. You have eight patients to care for on a busy admission unit. Patient A needs the toilet but cannot do this himself, patient B has terrible chest pain and is shouting calling for you to get him pain relief. You will have to perform an ECG (heart trace) on him urgently as well as get his pain medicine. Patient C has a bed on a specialist ward – he needs to be transferred to start specialised treatment, patient D is sat in ED waiting for patient’s C bed. The relative of Patient E comes out of the side room to tell you her mother has passed away, a death you were expecting but you now need to comfort a grieving daughter. Everyone needs you concurrently. All these patients need you now. What/who is your priority?
Now imagine that you are the patient. Patient A desperate, embarrassed at the thought of wetting yourself. Patient B, in agony terrified that you’re having another heart attack which could be the one that kills you. Patient C, waiting, more waiting to be transferred to another ward, impatient and eager to start your treatment. Patient D, fed up with sitting on an Emergency Department trolley cold and hard under your frail bones. Patient E’s daughter, who just wants to be held, to be given a moment, another human being to momentarily fill the gap her mother has just left.
Now imagine the emotional toll this takes on that single nurse trying to please, care for and be there for his/her patients. Now try imaging this responsibility knowing that you have not had a pay increase inline with inflation for years. When you’re worried about fuel costs, childcare costs, rent and food bills. Exhausted as you’ve not yet had a coffee/lunch/toilet break. Patient F arrives interrupting your worries. He’s drunk and angry, unsteady on his feet, he wants to leave the hospital but can’t quite stand long enough without falling over. You try to reason with him, try to help him to sit on his bed, to stop shouting at you. He spits in your face. A glop of his phlegm hits you hard like a bullet on your check. You feel sick, you want to cry. But you think of patients A- E all who still need your attention now. You hear the dinner trolley, ceramics clanking, knives and forks tinkering the smell of cottage pie and gravy. You will now be expected to help give your patients food and administer the dinner time medication. You have a degree, are studying part time for a Masters. You are committed to this profession that you love, to the patients that you so desperately care for, in a system that you believe in and will fight for. But you’re reserves are running out, your resilience is low. You can’t be pulled in so many directions at once. To be told you’re not worth more than a 3% raise. To be told to leave if you want – yet if you did leave what would happen to Patients A-F?
We have faced real terms pay cuts, training places are no longer funded, safe staffing levels rarely achieved, a hostile environment for our wonderful European colleagues who have now left, missing our children’s bedtime as unable to get off on time, hours and hours of unpaid work owing to missed lunches, staying late, arriving early, catching up with paperwork at home. Working extra shifts, guilty and afraid of what would happen if we didn’t agree to the shift, not wanting to let our colleagues nor patients down.
So let me be clear, nurses are not the villains here. Our years of thankless band aids are no longer sticking to this gaping wound. When you hear the propaganda they will throw at you, when they tell you we should be grateful to have jobs, are lucky we are being paid. Think back to the time you were standing in our shoes on the admission ward faced with patients A-F and think what would you do? Now imagine making these decisions for twelve hours a day/night.
Please stand with us, for at any time you could be patient A-F. The NHS IS bleeding, it is haemorrhaging nurses (and all its staff). Without an urgent transfusion, the NHS will have nothing left. Death. An unavoidable death. Striking is our shout out to the resuscitation team, our demand that urgent help is needed to save our beloved system. Our beloved NHS.