Nurse 'walked 15 miles in one shift'

Published: 9 Aug 2012 11:300 comments

STAFF at the new South West Acute Hospital are finding it difficult to adapt to life there with claims that some nurses are walking up to 15 miles during one shift and are left over-worked, exhausted and missing lunch breaks.

A visitor walking in one of the corridors of the new South West Acute Hospital outside Enniskillen.

A visitor walking in one of the corridors of the new South West Acute Hospital outside Enniskillen.

The Impartial Reporter has learned of a number of serious problems facing pressurised staff, including clerical and admin staff located in rooms with no windows, low morale due to under-staffing and a heavy workload and claims of little or no support from senior Trust management. "Staff are expected to knuckle down and get on with it and are constantly told it will take time to get used to the move. The move is not the problem," said our source.

One staff member told us: "The lack of parking spaces, the increased amount of walking, learning how to use new technology and equipment, and navigating my way around the building are the main issues. You spend more time walking around the building than doing the job and there are not enough of us to cover the work involved."

She claims staff areas on different wards have "no windows, no atmosphere and are extremely warm" and described the new hospital as a "pressurised environment".

"Morale is quite low at times, although nobody ever complains and everybody just gets on with the work. I have to admit I often don't bother taking my lunch breaks, just so I have more time to complete my workload for the day," she said.

This point was reiterated by another source who told us: "Nursing and nursing support staff are saying that they aren't getting breaks as they are so short staffed and many other staff are saying that they are located very far away from the canteen therefore it takes too long to go there leaving colleagues under additional pressure."

Due to the size of the building the staff member says she doesn't get to see or speak to as many colleagues from other wards or departments any more.

"There are many staff members that I would have talked to on a regular basis in the Erne, but I have not been speaking to them since the day it closed because I don't see them now. There isn't anybody to be seen on the corridors inside. At times there may be only one person walking along the corridor."

She added: "The hospital is obviously much bigger than the Erne and it is taking us longer to learn our way and use the new technology. The walking is tiring; one member of staff walked 15 miles in one day."

The car parking issue has been a hot topic and a lack of spaces is proving difficult for a large number of its employees.

This staff member told us how she has to leave her house 20 minutes earlier just to find a space to park.

"This is ridiculous and leaving at lunch is just not possible as on my return I would not find a space. I'm aware of the plans to add more parking spaces but this just isn't enough for the number of staff and visitors. There are also plans to add a bus service to and from the hospital just for staff but I like to know my car is sitting outside waiting for me in case I needed to rush home in an emergency, not wait around for the next bus," she said.

The staff member was keen to reiterate that she and her colleagues are working "extremely hard" and their main focus "is and always will be patient care" but added:

"Due to the space we need to cover and the lack of staff I do believe there could be bigger issues for patients at some stage in the future."

Another member of staff told us: "The environment [in staff areas] is controlled through air conditioning, sometimes this works perfectly but often it is dispensing warm air making offices very uncomfortable. There is no other form of ventilation."

The distance from department to department is proving tough with some members of staff missing breaks to make up the time it takes to get from one end of the building to the other in order to deliver medial records, for example.

"Some wards are at the furthest point and should have been located in the centre of the building to aid pick-up and return of notes especially given the time involved in walking and time away from already pressurised environments due to staff shortage.

"Single room occupancy is brilliant in terms of combating infection, but social aspect for patients lost and much more work involved for an already hard pressed nursing and support teams. Very few additional members were added to this occupational group despite this major change in practice."

At present volunteers assist with the check in system at the hospital but our source says there is a concern about what happens when this scheme finishes as the size of the hospital plus electronic check in may be "frightening or confusing for older people".

The source added: "Staff feel as this is a hospital built by private money that the Trust is working against staff to make as much money as it can from them to repay this huge debt". The member of staff hit out at the support from the Trust, saying "no-one wants to know" and called on the Trust to recruit more staff.

Responding to the concerns raised this week, Deputy Chief Executive for the Western Health and Social Care Trust, Joe Lusby said the Trust will set up a formal employee feedback system in the Autumn. Nursing staffing levels will also be kept under review in the coming months.

He says it is to be expected that it will take some time for staff to become fully familiar with their new environments and added that supportive technologies were in place to assist the workload. Mr. Lusby says prior to the opening of the hospital the Trust received annual revenue funding to enable it to appoint 100 additional support services staff. He added: "Performance for July 2012 at the hospital was 91 per cent of patients waited no longer than four hours from time of arrival to treatment, admission or discharge."

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