It Takes Some Patients: Nursing at the NHS

When I sat down to chat with Mandy Baker she immediately told me she was nervous: “You should be interviewing a musician or something. I’ve got nothing good to say.” The small, dark-haired woman was clearly far too modest. Mandy has worked as a nurse since she was 17 years old and has stayed in her demanding job, working unsocial hours, through proposed NHS cuts and nurses being criticised in the press.

“It’s been a long time… about 38 years,” she commented, but she was still as upbeat as I imagined she was when she was just starting out at 17. The seemingly shy nurse told me that when she starts her shift she is all confidence: “When I’m working I’m not like this at all. I know exactly what I’m doing.”

Mandy works in a small minor injury unit near the Forest of Dean, but has done a few different types of nursing: “I’ve done operating theatres, nursing homes, casualties and a little bit of ward work, which I didn’t enjoy. My favourite was working in the operating theatre because it’s fairly high-pressure and technical.”

Although Mandy can enjoy the high-pressure aspect, working as a nurse can get too stressful for some, leading to negligence. There have been many stories in the press in recent years about the misconduct of NHS nurses. For example, in January Scotland’s Chief Nursing Officer, Fiona McQueen, came forward about rude behaviour she has encountered from staff in some of Scotland’s healthcare facilities. There is concern over nurses being demoralised, though she also mentioned that for the most part she was proud of the work nurses are doing. Mandy believes that we should “take each case on individual merit.” She of all people understands the stress that NHS staff members have to deal with: “Staff shortages have put even more pressure on nurses. They’re told to do all these tasks and are constantly forced to spread themselves too thin and I think some people just can’t cope, and then that’s when bad things happen.”

These staff shortages are part of a larger problem the NHS has with their budget. Mandy observed, “I can see they have to cut back, but I don’t know how they are going to do that. Everything the NHS spends money on is surely just as important as the next.”

As part of the strategy to cut NHS costs, the government plan to replace student bursary with loans. Many, including Mandy, fear that this will deter many from considering a career as a nurse or midwife: “I think they should keep the bursary,” she asserted. “When I was a student we got paid and the students nowadays still have to work long placement hours. They don’t get long holidays and lots of time-off like most university students.”

A recent review into improving efficiency in the NHS suggested that improving staff productivity by five minutes every shift could save the NHS millions of pounds a year. When I asked Mandy her opinion on this she said in her experience, nurses are working to their full potential, though she could only speak for her department. However, she proposed other ways to save nurses time that are out of their control. “The computer systems of different units and trusts aren’t linked. So, if a patient has recently been seen in a different place (even if they’ve come in about the same issue), we have to keep repeating investigations and making new notes. There should be an NHS UK so we’re all connected and our systems work together.”

Simple problems like this would make anyone wonder about the structure of the NHS. I asked Mandy if she felt that the management in the NHS know what nurses and doctors want/ need: “I assume they do have clinical staff, like nurses, advising them. But I would like some of the higher up management to come and see what really goes on in hospitals and other units, because sometimes I don’t think they know.”

Another area of healthcare professions that has been highlighted in the press lately is working unsocial hours. Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt has proposed that doctors unsocial pay be taken away, causing many junior doctors to strike. Mandy said: “I really feel for doctors, if that happened to nurses’ pay, no one will want to work the unsocial hours. The extra pay is most people’s only motivation to work those hours. I also think Jeremy Hunt doesn’t work until 11 and if he did, I’m sure he would expect a lot more money.”

When asked if she will keep working as a nurse Mandy said that she’s enjoyed her time as a nurse very much but “I’ve been a nurse for so long now,” she giggled. “So, I am planning on retiring soon because I can at 55 years old and then I might work part time… I know I’ll probably miss it.”

After seeing her dedication to her work I was surprised to learn that Mandy had never wanted to be a nurse: “I wanted to be a policewoman,” she laughed at the memory. “My sister was a nurse… I saw her books one day and thought ‘Oh yeah, I think I could do this’, so I applied.”

Mandy’s made many memories during her time working as a nurse, but said that the thing that sticks with her the most is an incident that happened about 10 years ago. She was in the middle of a shift when a man came in complaining of chest pain: “He suddenly collapsed and we resuscitated him and brought him back to life… every year on the day we saved him he comes in to bring us a box of chocolates. Which is very nice.” It’s amazing to think of the impact you can have on a patient’s life as a nurse or a doctor.

“Although, he hasn’t come for the last few years, so I think he might be dead now.”

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