Nobody buys new pyjamas because the district nurse is coming round. Community nursing, therapy and health visiting provides a privileged insight into the
lives of people needing care in their own homes. People in our services see how we really live in modern Britain.
Behind closed doors, little miracles are happening every day, lives are being changed or people are persisting with conditions that lead to lives many find beyond comprehension.
This is the world my staff inhabit. Populated by all sectors of society – we treat everyone everywhere. Stoical women living with Parkinson’s , the epitome of Yorkshire grit. Young mums with palliative babies, seeing through short lives to the full. Teenage girls not letting cerebral palsy get in their way. Refugees, the victims of torture and trafficking. Aged singers reminiscing about life before COPD and reliving mixed race marriages in 1950s Leeds. Young dads, doting on precious bundles, eyes like saucers. The rich, the poor and everyone in between. From head to toe and birth to death.
I try to spend at least one whole day a month back to the floor and often manage more. Every one of these sessions leaves me with an indelible memory of the people I meet. It often leaves me emotionally drained and carrying a set of concerns about them too. On the back of yesterday’s session with our fantastic Parkinson’s Nurse Specialist, Paddy Harris, I feel exactly the same.
That lead me to thinking about our staff and the weight they carry of all those lives. Every day working close to life, death, joy and many people with persistent, ongoing struggles. How do they cope? Some tell me the love of the job and the difference it makes drives their energy levels. Others say, after a challenging visit, they readjust in the car before the next one. Regular exercise, the support of teams, recognition from senior colleagues, a card from a grateful family. Small touches making a lasting difference…..
“Good leaders create a positive climate for staff so that they feel engaged and have the emotional capacity to care for others. There is enough negativity in health service organisations – fear, pain, anxiety, loss, uncertainty – that we must counterbalance it with positivity. This is both fundamental to leadership in the NHS and not widely understood. Expressions to staff of gratitude, appreciation, support and encouragement cost nothing but profoundly impact patient care”
And if the research is not enough for you, listen to Tommy talk about how “the district nurse put her arm around me and told me I was doing OK” . The power of a bit of kindness that
helped him through tough times as a carer for his mum. That nurse’s compassionate approach is something we need all our staff to be able to deliver. I have seen this from band 3 support workers and band 8 community matrons and staff in between (as well as drivers, therapists, doctors…) Retaining this valuable asset requires that we look after our staff.
The RCN survey into stress among nurses is a sign we need to do more. If two thirds have considered resigning, then things need to change. In my organisation, as well as back to the floor sessions, I have just finished listening events with community nurses. These have been a necessary part of how we are growing and changing services. In the news we hear about A&E being busy. This is the same for my 24-7 community nursing and therapy services. A boost of over 35 extra nurses in the next month – with support from commissioners – is essential. Nurses tell me of the strain they are under whilst new capacity comes on stream. At each session they have noted the importance of knowing that I know what they face, that the chair and other directors too. Just being there to listen helps… …and I now, more than ever, appreciate that this impacts on the resilience they need to do one of the most fulfilling and important jobs in the world.
So next time you casually tell someone that nurses or staff in the NHS don’t care, ask yourself when you last spent time with one and what you might be doing instead that will support them to do what they do best. Let’s lead with a positive culture that promotes little miracles of kindness, compassion and care.