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Demands to show ‘resilience’ put greater pressure on nurses, congress told

Nurses struggling to cope in stressful workplaces are placed under greater pressure by demands  to show resilience

Nurses struggling to cope in stressful workplaces are placed under greater pressure by demands to show resilience


Helen Oatham said it was a ‘systems failure’ if all responsibility was placed
on the individual. Picture: John Houlihan 

Nurses’ resilience is being used by employers to shift blame onto individuals trying to cope with stressful work environments, RCN congress heard.

In a debate on whether the term resilience is always positive and should be aspired to in the modern healthcare workforce, Mark Boothroyd of inner south east London branch said understaffed and ‘toxic’ work environments were the real issue, not the resilience of nurses.

‘Let’s campaign to change the toxic, unsafe system we work in,’ he told the annual congress in Liverpool.


Mark Boothroyd: ‘We are tough, 
but not invincible.’
Picture: John Houlihan

Mr Boothroyd said: ‘Every nurse who completes – or should I say survives – their training is resilient. We deal with traumatic experiences throughout training. We are tough, but not invincible.’

Helen Oatham of Norfolk branch said she was shocked by the number of publications that focused on the individual’s need to develop resilience skills, rather than highlighting the part that organisations should play.

Systems failure

Ms Oatham said it was a ‘systems failure’ if all responsibility was placed on the individual.

She said the concept needed to be explored in ‘greater depth and breadth’.

Developing resilient healthcare staff is often cited as important in promoting well-being, workforce sustainability and the consistent delivery of quality care.

The 2017 Nursing and Midwifery Council standards for proficiency for registered nurses require nurses to demonstrate ‘resilience’ alongside ‘emotional intelligence.’


Lesley Pallett: ‘Make workplaces
resilient.’ Picture: John Houlihan

However, critics of the use of the term resilience within the nursing workforce argue that it is overwhelmingly submissive and that asking individuals to improve their personal resilience without addressing the environments they are working in is self-defeating.

Make employers accountable

RCN safety representatives committee vice chair Lesley Pallett said: ‘We need to make employers accountable to make workplaces and work environments resilient.’

Raising awareness on the importance of self-care, stress management training and peer support networks are tools often used in developing resilience for nursing staff within a workplace setting.

RCN Wales, in collaboration with Cardiff University, is sponsoring a PhD to explore resilience, particularly from an organisational level.


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