By Lucette Davies

Staffing issues in health and care services are at a critical point – either we resolve them or we lose our NHS.

Some comments made by NHS staff about their work are deeply shocking. They talked about: despair and guilt at not being able to give patients the care they need; staff morale being at an all-time low and the health service being a dangerous place to work.

One nurse said: “I don’t know how long our bodies can continue”. Another nurse said: “I can’t see how the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) code can be safely practiced under these pressures” And another said they believed the “next staff shortage will be mental health related.”

So considering so many of us came out to clap on our doorsteps for NHS staff are we seriously not going to act now they are crying out for help?

What is going wrong that is creating such horrendous workplace pressures for people who simply want to care?

Our NHS staff have been struggling to keep the system afloat despite their workplaces being constantly understaffed.

Between 2016 and 2019 there was a 90% drop in the number of EU nurses registering to work in the NHS. We are also charging overseas workers in the NHS an annual surcharge so they can receive care as well as provide it. We have lost many vital immigrant workers from the NHS. And now the threat of dismissal for unvaccinated staff could mean a loss of 736 staff members from our trust alone.

A few people have described how they are expected to tackle the NHS backlog and maintain social distancing and have felt at risk personally. Particularly when patients can’t or won’t wear a mask. Many are suffering from stress and one care worker said: “the health service and care is being majorly driven by anxiety at the moment.”

But the endless restructuring our NHS has seen since 2012 is eroding the care we receive. It is why staff feel they can’t give an adequate standard of care.

They are exhausted, stressed, demoralised and feel undervalued yet at the same time told me about patients “taking out their frustrations on them.” And managers frequently bullying staff.

These people have a desire to care. They are not in it for the money but our Government has kept them on wage restraint since 2010 leaving many feeling undervalued.

In July it was reported that over 1500 NHS and care staff had died of Covid-19. The current staff shortages are exacerbated by staff absences due to those isolating; waiting for tests; having family who are isolating and stress.

There is no point in Eastbourne getting a new hospital or even some refurbishments on the old one -unless staffing issues can be resolved. Unions are the best organisations to tackle these issues, just as the GMB secured that fabulous victory for our refuse workers. We believe it can be done and our campaign will back any union action for NHS staff. But we must urge all NHS staff to ensure they join a union.

We all need to stop adding to staff stress by taking out our frustrations on them. And we all need to start pressuring our MP to address this. We need to unite as a community behind our NHS and care workers just as we united behind the refuse workers.

Our care homes are equally suffering from a crisis in staffing, so here is one poem written by a care worker.

I am a rare English nurse in my team,

Working amongst the kindest, the most

patient, the young

And those over from the Philippines,

Poland, Sri Lanka, Kerala, Romania and

Nepal

To care for the British old.

Night after night, we clean up

incontinence,

Cream, papery white skin,

Turn skeletal limbs, to stop soars,

Bring tea, hold bony gnarled hands,

Feed ham sandwiches, creamy

fruit yoghurts, shortbread, cake.

To those in shadowy lit worlds, between

the living and dead

Who no longer recognise their children,

And call out for their long dead mothers.

We hold their unease, their dislocation,

We are greeted with screams and

scratches, sometimes kisses and

‘darlings’

Moments of recognition, of laughter and

an occasional song

Eyes glazed and scared, where am I,

what’s wrong?

Those who come to judge, forget to notice

our care.

We are checked for records, targets,

evidence for court,

Piles and piles of written justifications

As though we were the guilty ones.

This is the tragedy, the lack of belief

An absence of trust,

A desire to blame.

Misunderstanding the passage of time,

The inevitability of death

And the soaring, overriding, magnitude…

Of love, and what truly love means.

I am grateful to all the people who have sent me statements to use in this column. I had no problem in understanding why as one person told me that after nearly 50 years in the service they had: “Never known so many staff planning to leave.”