Looking after your physical health

 Nicky Hughes 1 Jun 2020

A message to members and reps from RCN Wales Associate Director of Nursing, Nicky Hughes 

Well, we are in week 11 of the pandemic and still nurses, students and carers across all sectors are working flat out to care for patients in need. Last week I gave some of my thoughts around looking after your mental health. But I am also aware that members are raising concerns regarding the physical effects of wearing PPE for long amounts of time and the exhausting and intense work that is being undertaken. 

A new resource has been uploaded onto the RCN website, so I thought this is a good time to think about our physical well-being.   

I can’t write my blog this week without mentioning the tragic news that another nurse has passed away in Wales, thoughts go out to her family and loved ones but also to those who have worked alongside her. 

I am not saying anything you don’t already know – but in these times it is easy to put ourselves second to ensure patients get the care they need – again I will state the airplane adage I used last week ‘You have to put your own oxygen mask on to be able to help others.’

Although we are used to wearing gloves and washing our hands throughout a shift, this pandemic has taken that to a completely different level. In a RCN survey on skin health found that 93% of nursing staff who responded said they had experienced skin conditions on their hands, including cracking, scaling and pain in the last 12 months

Members are currently complaining about dryness, itching and redness on their hands, which as you know are the first signs of dermatitis due to the continuous use of gloves and constant hand washing. This can be treated by the regular use of moisturising hand cream that contains an emollient after a shift. More detailed advice, leaflets and posters can be found on the RCN website 

We are also hearing of members suffering heat stress due to PPE and the work environment and that this is a contributing factor to fatigue, dehydration and sore faces. It is clear that employers have a responsibility under health and safety regulation to ensure your FFP2/3 is fitting correctly and that they are changed regularly as per manufacturer’s instructions; you have regular rest breaks and easy access to fluids and food throughout your shift. 

If you feel that you are suffering from heat stress - escalate this to your line manager and complete an E-datix form (I know they are clunky but are so important). There is a very helpful risk assessment and risk reduction toolkit, which you can go through with your manager on the RCN website, which can be found here https://www.rcn.org.uk/get-help/rcn-advice/personal-protective-equipment-ppe-and-covid-19. 

Last Thursday was the last time we clapped for our carers. I was humbled every week to see the support of the public and that will continue, but we know clapping doesn’t pay the bills and we need politicians to support and value nurses and carers in terms of wages that reflect the expertise, skill  compassion and clinical judgement in all care settings. 

RCN Wales will make sure no government forgets the professionalism, commitment and dedication shown by nurses and carers during this period. 

I would love to hear your experience on the effect of the current pandemic on your general health

Take care and be kind to yourself and your colleagues 

Get in touch with Nicky on Twitter - @nichughes1 – CommunicationsWales@rcn.org.uk 

Nicky Hughes

Associate Director of Nursing (Employment Relations) RCN Wales

Nicky has 30 years experience of working in the NHS in the specialities of inpatient acute medicine and the community setting, where she managed frontline services such as District Nursing, Prison Nursing, and those caring for the homeless and asylum seekers. In addition she commissioned care from the nursing home sector.

Page last updated - 29/06/2020