Theresa Fyffe: Listening first step to better NHS

Patient care will suffer if nurses feel overstretched. Picture: Sandy Young
Patient care will suffer if nurses feel overstretched. Picture: Sandy Young
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It may be the start of a new year, but the pressures facing our NHS and all the dedicated staff who work there have not gone away and it will take more than a simple New Year resolution to turn things around.

Some good news came from a major survey of NHS Scotland staff which found that their experience of working for the service has improved in many areas – more staff than before now believe that care of patients is their health board’s top priority, for example. And while there is still a long way to go on this measure, it’s definitely a step in the right direction and shows that health boards are, perhaps finally, starting to prioritise the needs of their patients, rather than focusing on balancing their books.

The bad news is that less than half of NHS Lothian staff feel they can meet all the conflicting demands on their time at work and less than a third think there are enough staff to do their job properly.

After years of cuts, the number of nurses and midwives working in our NHS is now going up, but so, too, is demand for services. We can’t keep on asking nurses and other NHS staff to juggle all the demands they face trying to deal with more and more patients, without enough staff. Budgets are very tight and likely to become more so over the next few years. So we must look at how we can do things differently before staff get to breaking point and patient care suffers as a result.

The findings from the survey also show an increase in the number of staff actually taking part in the survey which, given the pressures our NHS is currently facing, reflects staff’s ongoing dedication and commitment to the organisation. Yet one of the “least positive” (aka “bad”) results from the survey is that less than a third of staff feel they are consulted about changes at work.

So perhaps a New Year resolution for NHS Lothian should be to start really listening to their staff and act on the results of the survey. It’s not good enough, for example, that more staff than ever are subjected to abuse from patients or members of the public. Staff should feel safe at work and know they can report all such incidents and that action will be taken as a result.

Listening to staff and taking action is not simple – it will require a major cultural shift, but staff know more than most about the pressures and issues they face, so the health board would do well to listen to them and start to take action.

And a New Year resolution for the Scottish Government? It should also listen to staff and to the many organisations such as ourselves and have the courage to start a wide public debate about the sustainability of our NHS and how we can provide services into the future. This is not simple, either, but without change, there is a danger that the any improvements reported by staff this year will go into reverse.

• Theresa Fyffe is Royal College of Nursing Scotland director