As someone who works for the Royal College of Nursing I found it a difficult but humbling read. Dedicated and skilled professionals wanting to do their best for the patients and clients in their care, but frustrated by understaffing and the resulting unsafe environments.
The workplace regulator, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), define stress as "the adverse reaction people have to excessive pressures or other types of demand placed on them". Stress is a health and safety issue and one which safety laws require employers to address.
Recognising the high levels of stress within the health sector, the HSE is currently working with employers in the NHS in Scotland to pilot new ways to address work related stress including looking at the working conditions that can lead to stress. The RCN’s workplace reps are engaged locally with this work and we will watch the developments with interest.
Improving working conditions are important in stemming the flow of nurses out of the profession. A recent NMC survey of over 4,000 nurses found that, excluding retirement as a reason, 44% left the register due to working conditions. Creating a vicious circle – nursing staff leaving, creating more pressure on the ones still practising.
The RCN has developed a toolkit to support improvements in working conditions, which can address some of the factors that lead to stress at work. Covering dignity at work, work-life balance, safe working environments, well designed jobs and learning and development opportunities the Healthy workplace toolkit provides a framework for organisations to use to identify areas for improvement and to support the health, safety, wellbeing and retention of their nursing workforce.
Of course as individuals, we have our part to play in looking after our own health, so the toolkit is complemented by the Healthy you tools for nursing staff to use to support self-care. The ethos behind the Healthy you work is to encourage nurses to put on their own hypothetical ‘oxygen masks’ first before helping others. The areas covered by Healthy you include physical health, mental health, spiritual health, work life balance and career.
So while we campaign for legislation on safe staffing levels across all countries of the UK, the RCN’s Healthy workplace, healthy you resources can help. Small changes to the working environment and small changes to the way we look after ourselves can start to make a big difference to stress levels.