Caitlin Griffin goes behind the headlines to speak to student nurses about how the health system affects them.
The Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (INMO) has reported that in one day, 612 patients were left on trolleys in corridors waiting to be seen late last year. This the highest number the INMO have ever recorded. These recent figures shine a light on the staff working in Irish hospitals trying to keep up with the increasing patient numbers, particularly public sector nurses.
Hospitals in Ireland are understaffed and their nurses are over worked, everyone knows that- but does that mean student nurses are going to just have to accept that fact?
As a part of their degree, student nurses are required to do work experience in different wards and in different hospitals. Here they see first-hand what is expected of them and the daily pressures of being an over-worked nurse.
Speaking with several third-year nursing students in National University of Ireland Galway, I asked them whether or not they feared their futures in regards to their career.
Maeve (20) has seen how overwhelming it is for nurses, trying to cope with the demand not only in A&E but also on medical and surgical wards. “Overcrowding and inadequate staffing levels put too much pressure and stress on nurses every day. It’s only getting worse as time goes on.”
Maeve describes the working conditions as “an exhausting and intolerable environment to work in”, saying it has a knock-on effect on patients as “it impacts the quality of care they receive”.
Critical Care Medicine studies show that after comparing a diverse group of hospitals worldwide, a higher nurse-to-patient ratio correlated with lower patient deaths. Clair (21) agrees from witnessing it first-hand that this “pressure on the health-care system is costing lives”.
When asked why Niamh (20) chose to be a nurse, knowing somewhat how much nurses were understaffed and over-worked, she said “I once dreamed of being the person who makes someone better, reassures someone at a time they feel most vulnerable, but most importantly care for someone in a manner that you wish to be treated. But now, we the nurses, are the vulnerable ones. This is what scares me”.
It’s not only this pressure on the health-care system that worries student nurses but also the fate of their career. Niamh tells me how “disheartening” it is when a qualified nurse tells you to “leave [the country] as soon as you get the chance”.
This seems to be a common worry of each student I spoke to. Maeve says that “staffing levels need to be increased” if Ireland wants their new nurses to stay. Clair is adamant that she has “absolutely no intention of staying in Ireland to work as a nurse”.
If student nurses have it embedded in their minds that they have no choice but to leave the country to find work, who will be left to take care of vulnerable people in our country? It is a terrifying thought that people must leave their homes in search of work in 2017.
These young nurses feel fear every day. Fear for their futures and fear for the ill people of Ireland. They feel this, because they look at the over-worked, under-staffed nurses of today and see their future. How can they not worry when they’re advised to change career?
Niamh says student nurses “can’t learn to care for others if the nurses teaching [them] aren’t cared for themselves. It’s time nursing became a caring profession again”.
If things continue to go on like this, if the Irish health care system doesn’t show signs of improvement, Irish nurses will leave. Then who will be left to take care of you, if you become unwell?