As the RCN’s ballot of members working within the HSC enters its second week, I wanted to reflect on another aspect of the current crisis in which nursing finds itself. Yes, we are balloting members to improve conditions and to allow staff to provide safe and effective care to those we look after and support. But we also need to take action to ensure that the health and well-being of nurses is protected and that we care for those who are caring for others.
Some 73% of Northern Ireland respondents to the 2019 RCN Employment Survey reported that they work beyond their contracted hours at least once per week. More than one-third (37%) do so several times each week. Just over one-quarter (27%) told us that they have another job in addition to their main job. Staff are exhausted, both physically and mentally, and live in constant fear of making a mistake or error. Yet, because of staffing shortages and a sense of duty to those in their care, they still come to work. The majority of respondents (85%) reported that they had gone to work at least once during the previous 12 months despite feeling too ill to do so. Nurses are committed to providing care, but the system is putting their own health at risk.
A survey of 2,660 health care workers, undertaken by Nursing Notes and prompted by the recent deaths of two nurses, sought to examine how safe nursing staff feel driving home from their place of work after a night shift. The majority (73%) said they feel unsafe. Over half (58%) said this was because they do not have the time to take their allocated unpaid breaks.
We are in a crisis. The ability of nurses to provide safe and effective care to patients is severely compromised, but the health and well-being of nurses is also at an unprecedented risk. Please, use your vote to protect patients AND nurses.
Vice Chair, RCN Northern Ireland Board