Public Sector Stress

Let’s talk about stress!

This week it has been reported that stress related leave is 30% higher this year for fire staff, one in four ambulance staff have taken time off for stress in the past year and 9 out of 10 emergency care staff experience damaging levels of stress.

I am seeing this every day with the staff I work with and within myself.

I recently read Trauma by Gordon Turnbull. Who looks at the treatment methods for PTSD. Interestingly he wrote that experiences of stress were the bodies normal reaction to abnormal events or levels of stress. I think stress is fascinating to look at, simply because it has such a profound effect. As a manager I can look at sickness rates and find that the majority are stress related. Stress can be exhibited in so many different ways, through physical symptoms such as IBS, headaches, migraines, body pains, nausea, fatigue and sleep problems. It can also be seen through emotional symptoms such as anxiety, anger, depression and feeling generally overwhelmed. Finally it can be seen with changes to the persons normal behaviour, alcohol, drug use and withdrawal.

Why is this happening within emergency care? So I can confidently say stress affects me most days…. don’t get me wrong a certain amount of stress can be empowering and liberating but when it becomes a constant something has to give.

Let’s take last Thursday’s shift as a typical day, this involves a 12.5 hour shift. I arrive to start clinical work at 09:00 and find that I have around 100 emails all of which are highlighted as incredibly important by whoever sent them, there are complaints that need resolving, incidents that need to be investigated, staff with concerns and still there are patients that need to be looked after. I also have a queue of staff at the door before I get my coat off with all sorts of problems. For me patients come first every time so I look after them to the best of my ability. I get a sandwich and a drink around 4pm and decide to look at the emails while I have a quick bite to eat. Now there are another 30 emails that need sorting. After 20 minutes the consultant comes to me to say that I have a queue and need to get back to work. I’m due to finish my shift at 9:30pm, always invariably there is a challenging patient which needs my attention today was a young girl who had been stabbed by her boyfriend and leasing with social services and completing the domestic violence and safeguarding paperwork took forever so I don’t finish till 10:15 and go to look at my emails and the ever expanding to do list! I concentrate on trying to finish a presentation that I am teaching at 09:00 in the morning to junior staff I get home 11:30 at night, cook myself something to eat, realise I haven’t had time for a pee all day, I cry because although i try to sort everyone else problems out I actually do not know how I can keep going on with this level of stress….I’m exhausted. Not once in my day did anyone say to be “are you ok?” “do you need a break?” or “do you need any help?” I know I’m just exhausted and this is a symptom of a broken system. Pressure is being put on emergency care currently, the NHS is a failing system in incredible amounts of debt, therefore recruitment of staff is not easy. Justifying the need of another nurse and having it authorised by management is hard work. Therefore we are all working in systems that are short staffed and at the same time having to keep up with high levels of cleanliness and patient care. The quality indicators that we have are achievable if staffing levels are appropriate. The current climate of financial difficulties within public sector means there are less people trying to keep up with overwhelming demand! It is physically not possible. What happens when concerns are escalated…. Jack ****. It’s like managers are putting on the pressure but are not able to see how unrealistic the demands are, along with constant degrading remarks, put downs and constant tellings off. We know we’re not perfect but we are trying our best because that is what the patients require.

Why do I do it? I know the answer to this…. if I don’t do it and put in the effort who will for my patients and my staff?.

When I think of members of emergency care staff experiences of stress I always used to think of those that worked with the military and for overseas aid agencies… What I’ve learnt is that it is actually right under our noses with emergency care staff and we’re actually not very good at addressing it. As a manager if someone has time off for any reason I make sure to keep in touch … I have found when it was the other way round and I needed to have time off I was made to feel ashamed and guilty for having time off .

Stress is an absolute epidemic within emergency care staff… and I can’t see anything being done about it.

Look after each other!


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