Nurses need employer support to give the best care, says researcher

Support for staff wellbeing is vital to ensure high quality patient care, says head of nursing research unit

Employers need to promote nurses’ wellbeing so they can give the compassionate care they entered the profession to provide, a conference heard.

Jill Maben, director of the National Nursing Research Unit at King's College London, said the 2013 Francis report into failings in care at Mid Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust, highlighted a need to recruit people with the ‘right’ values.

‘Implicit in that was somehow we had not been, and we were recruiting all these bad people in the NHS,’ said Professor Maben, speaking a conference on healthcare staff wellbeing at The King's Fund in London.

She added: ‘What if we have been recruiting the right people in the NHS, but actually, through our system in the NHS, we were doing something that eroded their compassion?’

Professor Maben said her research on the effect of staff wellbeing on performance and patient care revealed nurses derive significant job satisfaction from caring for and getting to know patients, but barriers got in the way.

She said the picture of ‘an ideal nurse-patient relationship’ emerged as an aspiration for nurses. This included wanting to connect to individuals, which led to feelings of gratification, satisfaction and privilege. She talked too about encountering nurse bias towards or against patients.

Professor Maben cited her 2006 PhD study in which she asked 26 third-year nursing students about the kind of care they wanted to give. The said they wanted to provide evidence-based, individual care at the bedside.

After 15 months, only four of the 26 said they were caring for patients in the way they wanted. Eight said they were compromising their ideals daily and already considering leaving the profession.

King’s Fund head of thought leadership Michael West said nurses in the health service had committed an enormous part of their lives helping people.

‘That was their decision, their calling, their vocation – the question is, what do we need to do to support those people best to deliver high quality, compassionate care?’

Professor West said it was a ‘deep and disturbing’ paradox that health service staff – who are committed to helping others – are demeaned and even killed by stress and working environments. 

Salisbury NHS Foundation Trust director of occupational health Heidi Lewis said measures to tackle high stress-absence rates were working at her organisation, which is rated as one of the top five NHS employers, based on the NHS Friends and Family Test.

In November 2014, the trust's stress-related absence rates were more than 14%. This figure is now down to just above 9%.

The trust has used charitable funding to employ a mental health nurse, who supported 94 staff in 2015. 

It also ran a stress awareness week, a psychological wellbeing short course, a mindfulness and meditation service and a social running group.


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