This is my interview with a mental health nurse. It’s presented without commentary and just my questions and the answers. I’ll let the words speak for themselves.
Ashley Black: What do you do, and what’s your background in the NHS?
Leanne McHarg: I am a newly qualified nurse with just over months of experience. I work in a mental health ward. Prior to being registered, I worked as a nursing assistant. I also worked as a student through covid and was deployed into adult wards.
AB: Thank you for speaking to me. My first question is this, what’s the mood in your hospital?
LM: The mood in my hospital is one of absolute hopelessness. The staff are all beaten down. I was recently off with stress, as have several of my colleagues. To see nurses and nursing assistants in tears is just commonplace now with the constant pressure and stress we are under. The levels of sickness in staff are the highest I’ve ever seen. You dread every shift because you have no idea what you are walking into. The most dangerous thing at present is newly qualified nurses, just out of university being left on shift on their own. I can’t express how dangerous this is to patients and staff, it should never happen however, people with less than 2 weeks experience are being given the keys and being left to run wards.
AB: Could you give me an example of your working day?
LM: An example of my working day would be. Go to work. Get the handover from the night shift. The page holder will call, and all the wards are short, so they will juggle the agency staff between the wards. The bed manager will call and get available bed numbers. Nursing assistants will get patients up and ready. For breakfast, I will usually do all medication rounds for the whole day as currently, I am the only trained. We will have an MDT depending on the consultant that day. Where patients will meet with their consultant. One of the biggest problems we have in our ward is certain consultants who don’t engage with nursing staff when we tell them certain patients are blocking beds that don’t need to be there. The level of staff assaults is astronomical. Doctors say patients don’t have capacity, which they clearly do as doctors are allowing them time out of the ward on their own, and we have no recourse.
Certain patients then know they won’t or can’t be discharged, and they assault staff constantly. In the last six months, I have had my ribs cracked and whiplash. I have been seriously assaulted so many times I can’t even count anymore. It’s pretty much a daily occurrence. Yet, doctors detain patients that don’t need to be detained and leave nurses to deal with the consequences. If any patients are coming into the ward, I will have to do an assessment and full care plan. I will arrange observation lists, reassessments for patients due, general health observations throughout the day, notes for every patient, dinner, evening medication, deal with emergencies throughout the shift and assist 21 patients with anything they need all day.
AB: What’s your biggest concern about the NHS today?
LM: My biggest concern is twofold. Experienced nursing staff leaving. The influx of agency staff. The number of experienced staff who have left in the last year is worrying. It’s ok for politicians to say that there are record numbers of newly qualified nurses joining the NHS, but they are useless without having experienced nurses to learn from. You can’t quantify the value of the experienced staff who have been there and done it. Most wards are being run with many of the staff with under a year’s experience.
Replacing these experienced staff with agency staff who are nurses who are no longer in regular practice, who have no access to systems, who can’t dispense medications, and who are there for a wage, these are not their patients. They do not care about these patients and are there only for the money. Agency nurses will be paid between £38-42 an hour on the same shift as the NHS nurse who runs the shift receiving £15 an hour and doing all the work. An agency nurse is effectively used as a band three nursing assistant.
AB: What do you think about the strike?
LM: Not one nurse or nursing assistant wants to strike. However, we have begged the hospital management and government for years to listen to our concerns. We have been fobbed off year after year, and the staff have had enough. We don’t feel valued, and we are all genuinely concerned for patients’ safety. We feel like there is no option but to strike. Our pay does not reflect our education, responsibility, or the work and constant training we need to undertake.
AB: What are the three main issues facing NHS staff?
LM: Staff retention, NHS being privatised by stealth, Lack of experienced staff.
AB: It’s 2025, and nothing has changed. How will NHS Scotland look?
LM: If nothing changes in 2025, I see a huge staffing crisis. I know people who have already left the profession after 3 years of hard work to get their degree. I see it being privatised with more agency staff. Patient care suffering.
AB: It’s 2025, and staff have their demands met. How will NHS Scotland look?
LM: Hopefully, if demands are met, the experienced staff who are thinking of leaving will stay. Staff who have left to work for agencies will come back to the NHS and take more permanent posts.
AB: What would you say to people that dismiss your concerns by pointing out that it’s worse for NHS staff elsewhere in the UK?
LM: I would say. As a nurse, I would not like a family member to be in hospital at present. The whole of the UK needs to address the crisis in the NHS before we lose it forever. The Tories have wanted to privatise the NHS forever; they have run the service into the ground. This is an institution we need to fight for because if it goes, the standard of living in this country will drop even further. I think the public is constantly lied to by the mainstream media, and they have no idea how bad the situation is.
AB: If you could sum up the mood of the NHS in one word, what would it be and why?
LM: Done. We are all done working in these conditions. We are done being unable to care for patients properly. We are done being underpaid and overworked.
Next, Ashley Black speaks to another member of NHS Scotland staff. Do you have any suggestions for who else she could speak to? Send your suggestions to [email protected]