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Caring for the Carers

Wendy Olayiwola 19 May 2022

The health and wellbeing of staff is as important as the care we provide for patients.

There is ancient mythology in Africa about a famous healer, Aliko, the go-to guy for all ailments in the community. He was highly regarded and passionate about treating others with natural remedies. People from the local community lined up outside his home seeking cures, and he never fell short of their expectations. Sadly, one day, Aliko became ill, and no one in the community knew how to help him. He was expected to heal himself, but another healer from a neighbouring community healed him.

This is the story behind a famous African proverb; "A healer does not heal himself".

As health caregivers, it is sadly the case that we receive less or no care at all when we need it the most. This happens for various reasons, either we think that the condition is nothing serious, or for some illogical reasons, we are expected to muscle up strength and carry on, when in reality, there is little strength left from our go pool. We hear and know of different stories of how much less care nurses and midwives receive despite being on the frontline of providing care and support for others in their time of need. Yet we know that we are not prioritised for support or care in many circumstances. For example, a staff going through fertility treatment was not offered support or flexible working hours, and the comments were harsh and insensitive. Instead, she was redeployed to an emotionally and physically challenging area to manage. The staff felt the cruelty of the actions of managers then, and others may be experiencing the same indifferent attitudes.

There are valid reasons why we should be sensitive and compassionate about what nursing and midwifery staff are going through in their personal lives, which may affect health and wellbeing, such as returning from maternity leave and struggling with personal work or family issues. It is said that midwives have a high rate of PTSD and that they are the professional group treated the worst in the NHS.

Suppose we are not concerned for or care for the well-being of caregivers and be sensitive to their needs. How can we expect them to transmit sensitivity, empathy and understanding toward their patients? A service that prioritises the wellbeing of its nursing and midwifery staff is likely to be one that delivers quality care and rates highly by way of staff morale, a good place to work with good level staff retention rates.

When people are treated well and with respect and empathy by their managers, they are likely to treat patients respectfully and with kindness and go that extra mile in offering their support in times of staff shortages or crises. It doesn't have to be a huge task to support staff through illness or personal difficulties; it can be a simple, how are you coping or how can we help you through this, or a "welcome back" from maternity or sick leave.

Wendy Olayiwola

Midwifery Forum Committee Member

National Maternity Lead for Equality

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Page last updated - 08/06/2022