Safety valve - why more must be done to protect staff mental health

 Eileen McKenna 7 Jan 2020

Nursing staff are under increasing amount of pressure at work. Stress, low pay and regularly having to work more than contracted hours means that their own wellbeing suffers. Eileen McKenna highlights why the RCN will be focusing on helping to keep staff safe in the coming year.

Nurse with head in her hands
As we move deeper into winter, the busyness of life can become overwhelming. For those working in health and social care this is often one of the most pressured times of the year. Although demands are increasing all year round, the winter months often see a dramatic spike in the number of people needing care. Nursing staff and services can be pushed to breaking point and their own wellbeing suffers.

It is such a positive step that we are talking so much more openly about wellbeing, self-care and mental health. We have come a long way, but there is still more to be done.

Our recent member survey highlighted that nurses and nursing support workers are feeling the strain. The personal stories of tears and worries over care left undone are hard to bear. We need to ensure that all staff in our health and social care system have the support in place to be able to speak up when they have concerns and not to carry this burden alone. Unfortunately, we hear all too often that this is not the case, that the confidence to speak up and challenge has been eroded, that there is no longer trust within teams.

In order to be our most effective, we need to feel ‘psychologically safe’ - we need to be able to raise concerns, ask for help, take risks and innovate and, where necessary, admit failures. 

For me, the importance of this on an individual’s wellbeing and the quality of care they provide cannot be underestimated. Over the past three years, working on the development of legislation for staffing for safe and effective care in Scotland has crystallised my view that there is so much more we need to do than simply implement the Health and Care (Staffing) (Scotland) Act, to support our members to feel safe. This is why, in the International Year of the Nurse and Midwife, psychological safety will be a key focus of our work throughout 2020. 

Eileen McKenna

Associate Director, RCN Scotland

Eileen McKenna is Associate Director (Professional Practice), RCN Scotland.

Page last updated - 07/01/2020