Dedicated staff battle through 'beast from the east'

Nurses have battled against the 'beast from the east' and Storm Emma to reach patients over the last few days despite rail and road travel chaos

Nurses have battled against the 'beast from the east' and Storm Emma to reach patients over the last few days despite rail and road travel chaos.

Picture: Getty Images

But one trust has been blasted by NHS staff for threatening employees with docked annual leave, should they miss work during the snowy weather.

Dedicated staff braved the snow and icy conditions to reach their places of work against the odds, but some were alarmed to see emails warning them failure to attend would result in docked annual leave.

Staff health and safety

A healthcare assistant from the Midlands told Nursing Standard: ‘Nice to see they take the health and safety of their staff seriously.’

He said the icy conditions had made driving extremely dangerous, adding: ‘Love the irony of being able to clock in to work as I get wheeled in from an ambulance.’

The email to staff read: 'Any staff not attending work because of weather related issues will be considered absent and their manager will deal with it in line with our policy.'

It added that 'emergency accommodation' could be found for struggling staff.

Conditions were deemed so bad in the region, that East Midlands Ambulance Service limited services yesterday.

The service tweeted: ‘Due to the severe weather conditions, we have cancelled all non-emergency patient transport journeys which are not for vital treatment. Patients who have appointments for vital treatment such as chemotherapy and dialysis, and patients leaving hospital, will be prioritised.'

A twitter account, run by an anonymous junior doctor in Ireland, tweeted yesterday: ‘Arrived into work for 7.30am. Doctors, nurses, secretaries, porters and everyone else - all front line staff are here- along with a memo that we would be docked annual leave if we didn’t come in.

‘Ireland’s Health Service Executive need to learn the difference between reward and punishment.’

Elsewhere trusts and the public tweeted support for the dedication shown by nurses.

North East London Foundation Trust promoted its approach to ‘agile working’ as recently featured in Nursing Standard, which enabled nurses to work remotely during the winter weather.

For international nurses at University Hospitals Coventry and Warwickshire, the snow was less of a hindrance and more of a marvel.

Scotland has experienced the worst of the weather, with two red alerts issued by the Met Office meaning there is a danger to life.

Going the 'extra snowy mile'

Scotland's chief nursing officer Scotland Fiona McQueen said: ‘Thank you to all our health and social care staff who are literally going the extra, snowy mile to care for the people of Scotland. Clinicians, facilities, admin, management teams- you are worthy of the confidence the public have in you. Thank you.’

In North East Essex nurses from Anglian Community Enterprise had to be rescued by a tractor. 

And some have suggested nurses are sleeping overnight at hospitals to ensure they are on shift.

Northern Devon Healthcare NHS Trust has cancelled appointments tomorrow following the Met Office red weather warning.

The trust is continuing to run clinics today and is advising patients to attend their appointment, as long as they feel safe to do so, but to call ahead if unable to attend.

Appointments cancelled tomorrow include outpatient appointments, day case surgery and endoscopy, and elective inpatient surgery.

Director of nursing, quality and workforce Darryn Allcorn said: ‘Heavy snow is expected later today, which could make it unsafe to travel. Please monitor the weather conditions and consider your safety before travelling today.’

Responding to reports that staff in hospitals were told that they must come to work during snowy conditions, NHS Employers chief executive Danny Mortimer said: ‘NHS staff from all disciplines and across the country have been making heroic efforts to get into work to ensure that patients receive care.
‘Employers will have their own policies in place covering bad weather and transport disruption but there is no automatic legal right for an employee to be paid if they do not actually work though other policies covering special leave will exist.
‘During the harsh weather conditions this week, employers and the wider community are doing what they can to help staff get to where they are needed. I do not believe the concerns being raised are commonplace and would hope that they can be quickly resolved by the organisations concerned.’


Meanwhile, the latest NHS England winter performance figures showed one in seven hospital trusts hit capacity last week – meaning every routine and emergency escalation bed available was full on at least one day.

RCN general secretary Janet Davies said the figures – for the week commencing 19 February – showed the NHS was struggling before the snow and this week’s weather conditions were increasing the strain on the health service.

‘When hospitals are full to bursting, extra effort is needed to keep people safe – wards must be staffed to higher levels and patients must not feel abandoned on makeshift beds in corridors or unsuitable rooms.’
She added: ‘The health and social care secretary and leadership of the NHS must make sure the health service can get through the rest of the winter safely.’

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