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Britain’s nurses need to know that the government has their back

If you’re reading this anywhere other than your own home, I hope you’ve got a very good reason. Earlier this week, the Prime Minister brought in some of the strictest curbs on personal freedom ever seen in this country. For weeks to come, there will be only four good reasons for all of us to leave home.

The weather might be bright and meeting up in parks must be tempting, especially with children. But while people refused to stay at home last weekend, the first nurse moved from treating patients to receiving life-saving treatment herself. The nursing community comes together in the hope that this nurse fully recovers, but we are braced for more of our number to move from practitioner to patient.

The sacrifice being asked of you pales into insignificance when you stop and consider what is being asked of healthcare professionals right now. The language of war is being deployed the world over, but the home front has never been more important too. Millions of health workers in the UK alone are being ‘sent into battle’. But – tragically – much of the weaponry is still missing.

With nursing staff providing the bulk of hands-on patient care, the people I represent couldn’t be any closer to the frontline. And the parts of the job we usually love are suddenly the most dangerous – hands-on, face-to-face contact.  The lack of masks means we’re asked to see patients without one, dangerously reuse them or use ones that are out of date. And they need to be available everywhere this battle is being fought – care homes and GP surgeries, not only hospitals.

We’ve been told by nurses that some are even resorting to fashioning protective aprons from bin liners. They think even that is better than wearing nothing when treating a highly infectious patient. No soldier wants to go into battle without armour. The alcohol hand sanitiser that the country is scouring the shops for is needed by the bucket for nursing staff too.

I have written to the Prime Minister to demand action to tackle these problems. Only when he and others can guarantee safe supply of these items, can I tell nursing staff their welfare is honestly being considered. Health care workers must be afforded priority testing without delay. Nursing staff cannot be expected to work shift after shift and not know if they’re adding to its spread and when to put themselves first. Testing them is the least they deserve for the dedication and professionalism on display. Not only do nurses need that assurance, it will give the public greater confidence too. 

Nurses are treating each day as it comes – and each patient as they come too. We aren’t “angels”. We feel the very human worries you do.  Every morning, some nurses are now worrying that their child’s school won’t be able to take them anymore, and so they won’t be able to go into work.

Nurses worry that today will be the day they’re told to self-isolate for a fortnight. They don’t want to desert the battlefield and leave their colleagues fighting this pandemic alone. Some nursing staff – particularly those who work in GP surgeries, or work for their hospital’s nursing bank or do agency work – are worried that any time not at work could mean a loss of income when the future looks so uncertain. Many nurses are their home’s bread-winner; without full occupational sick pay, they could lose their car, or even their home.

But, shamefully, some of the decency and affection usually shown to nurses is already starting to slip. Hoarding food supplies leaves supermarket shelves bare for when nurses get a chance to do some shopping. One nurse was shouted at last week on a bus, accused of spreading the virus. Another was mugged for her alcohol gel in the street.

The country’s nurses need to hear the Government has their back. If action isn’t taken on the concerns we’ve raised, ministers should be in no doubt of the toll it will take in human, clinical and political terms.

Donna Kinnair is Chief Executive of the Royal College of Nursing 

Source: Telegraph UK

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