Nurses ‘frightened’ of another emergency winter amid NHS staff crisis

Moving workers from community services into acute departments is increasing the 'risk of harm to children and vulnerable people', healthcare representatives have said.

Nurses ‘frightened’ of another emergency winter amid NHS staff crisis NHS Lanarkshire
University Hospital Monklands

The prospect of healthcare workers facing another winter under a state of emergency is “exceptionally frightening”, representatives have said.

As staff are moved between departments to shore up acute services there are concerns moving personnel from community services is increasing the “risk of harm to children and vulnerable people”.

Staff in NHS Lanarkshire have been left “drained” and “burnt-out”, unable to take meal breaks regularly, working beyond contracted hours and doing overtime to keep services afloat, according to a letter sent to the health board’s boss.

The area’s largest union, Unison, wrote to NHS Lanarkshire’s chief executive Heather Knox warning her that the current state of things “cannot continue”.

“As you pull from one setting, like community paediatrics to shore up acute paediatric in-patient, you’re reducing the level of care provided in the community,” said Margaret Anne Hunter, a registered nurse in NHS Lanarkshire.

“It leads to the spreading of the risk.

“Where this happens, there might be a risk that children who are experiencing reduced levels of care in the community will become unwell and will then be brought into the acute services which are so over-burdened at this time. It’s a vicious circle.”

At the union’s Scottish Health Committee last week, most representatives from around the country raised the issues of staff turnover, breaks, the mix of skills necessary to provide safe services and the widespread feelings of being “tired and drained at the end of their working day”.

“NHS Lanarkshire, along with any other board, is fishing from the same pond… There are not many fish left in that pond now.”

Margaret Anne Hunter, registered nurse

Katrina Murray, the Unison branch chair, wrote: “The current and constant demands on staff are taking their toll and staff are struggling to continue to provide safe and quality services.

“We have effectively been operating on emergency footing for nearly two years and the prospect of another winter is exceptionally frightening for staff.”

Without the trained workers to staff under-pressure services, those on the front-line are afraid of what is to come as absences increase.

“NHS Lanarkshire, along with any other board, is fishing from the same pond in terms of trying to recruit,” said Ms Hunter.

“There are not many fish left in that pond now.”

In August, NHS Lanarkshire suspended the majority of non-urgent elective procedures to free up staff and beds for urgent care.

Nurse Hunter said services that can be stepped-down safely must be reduced now to allow for skilled staff to safely do the jobs they know with the support they need.

Last month, health secretary Humza Yousaf said the summer had been a “perfect storm” for the NHS in Scotland amid high demand and a “knackered” workforce.

More than 200 soldiers have been deployed to support the Scottish Ambulance Service amid pressure on the NHS.

Injured people are having to be taken to hospital by police officers because of the crisis faced by the service, according to the Scottish Police Federation.

With hospitals beds taken up by Covid-19 patients, and growing pressure on emergency departments, those attending hospitals are waiting hours to be admitted leading to queues of ambulances unable to respond to other calls.

After a grandad died having waited 40 hours for paramedics, a doctor told STV News the Scottish Ambulance Service is at “crisis point”.

Firefighters are also stepping in to aid Scotland’s struggling ambulance service following an urgent call to the public sector for support.

NHS Lanarkshire has established a range of wellbeing services to support workers physically and mentally, including a dedicated counselling service, a national Wellbeing Hub, and spiritual care with peer support.

Ms Knox, chief executive of NHS Lanarkshire, said: “We recognise that our staff are tired and it has been a long time since the start of the pandemic.

“Our staff are doing a fantastic job during a very challenging time and we want to support staff as much as we can as we approach winter.

“We are working with clinical and nursing teams to better manage patient flows coming into our hospitals and with GPs to ensure we can offer patients the right care either in a hospital setting or in their own homes.

“The recent additional resources announced this week by Scottish Government being put into both acute and community care will support multi-disciplinary teams look at appropriate care packages for individuals. This will reduce the number of patients coming into hospital and support patients to be discharged home or to appropriate care much quicker.

“As you can appreciate we have only just received the letter from Unison today and will be looking at the issues they have raised.”