Mental Health Nursing UK
Have you ever been spat at in a day’s work? I have. Have you ever been mooned at in a day’s work? No? Well, you’re obviously not a mental health nurse. In 1997 this was the best job in the world. As a newly qualified nurse I had time to develop therapeutic, trusting relationships with patients. The people I worked with in Hackney were very disturbed and had experienced the most severe deprivation throughout their lives. The very essence of my job as a nurse was to relate to the patients; to take time to listen, observe and be with them, no matter how sad or difficult this was.
For one patient, it took three months of sitting as near to her as I dared while she spat or pulled tongues at me. I patiently waited and at times talked calmly to her. One day she reached out and took hold of my name badge and read out my name. We both smiled. With time I had been able to go beyond the shouting, swearing and spitting to find a beautiful human being. There were days when she felt safe enough to take hold of my hand, or to sit next to me and cry. This made my job worthwhile.
Fast forward to 2014, seventeen years later. I’m working as a community psychiatric nurse. Zoom in to a typical day at work. I’m in early at 8am, typing 60 words per minute to get a tribunal report completed for a deadline tomorrow. At 9am the phone starts to ring. A desperate patient has had a bad night and says she wants to kill herself. I glance at my diary for the day. Full of appointments, the first is an initial assessment at 9am. He’s probably already in reception as I can hear someone crying. A child protection meeting at 10.30am. This will give me 20 minutes to type up a whole assessment, develop a care plan and make any necessary referrals. This should take about three hours. I take five minutes to find out how suicidal my patient is. I need to assess if I have to find a way of seeing her today. The child protection meeting will hopefully finish by midday as I have four home visits from 12.30pm.
When I assess that my patient is actually planning to kill herself today, I find myself sighing. I hope she hasn’t heard. I look at my home visits and decide who to cancel. I manage to get my patient to agree that she will keep herself safe until 1pm when I will be able to visit her at home. It’s only later when I am in my car and have a minute to myself that I am able to reflect that this is not the type of nurse I want to be. This is not who I am, someone who sighs and finds it inconvenient that a patient is so low they want to end their life. Where is my compassion?
Related: As a nurse I don’t feel equipped to treat patients with mental health problems
The government is focused on us meeting targets but we have no resources. The precious commodity of time no longer exists for us. My trust has introduced training days on compassion as if this was something that could be taught. That’s why most of us went into nursing. Please do not drown us in a sea of targets, statistics and paperwork. Please do not take away our time to be compassionate. I left my nursing career in 2014 and still grieve for the NHS I knew in 1997.