This morning, we had nine new patients on the ward. They will all need support to manage the rollercoaster that is having cancer.
Nine may not seem like many, but I’m already seeing 80 patients this week. Every single one needs to be treated as an individual – as a person first, and a cancer patient second. This takes time – which, as the only clinical nurse specialist in my department, I’m finding harder and harder to find.
GPs and nurses are struggling with growing caseloads. I’ve been a cancer nurse for over 30 years and, believe me, things have never been this bad.
The numbers of patients being seen means it is often hard, if not impossible, to spend the time necessary to support patients through treatments. Recruitment is becoming increasingly difficult; nobody wants to work with these pressures especially if unsupported. As experienced nurses leave or retire, like-for-like replacement is a struggle, and this further depletes the quality of care that patients receive.
It’s all got me seriously worried about the future of the NHS. When I finally retire, will I be leaving a sinking ship?
Cancer has changed so much and the NHS isn’t catching up with it. People are living longer, the cancer population is growing, and patients who once had no treatment options now have a lot of choice.
Don’t get me wrong, this is a really wonderful thing. But what is good news for patients is, ironically, piling more pressure on staff who are already run ragged.
Understaffed wards are full of exhausted nurses. When I take time off, there is no one to cover my work. I used to not take any holiday because I’d feel too guilty. But everyone needs a break. No one is an endless resource.
I regularly work through the day without a break and I am not alone in this. The NHS depends on goodwill. Nurses do not turn their backs on patients in need, however, this often means there is no thinking or planning time, and certainly no personal respite.
With all this pressure, it takes all my strength and experience not to let the stress show in front of my patients. When you know people are spending hours in a waiting room, it’s hard not to try and rush your tasks and see more people. Thirty years of experience helps me stay calm in these situations.
But what about the new generations of nurses joining the service? If I’d had this level of pressure earlier in my career, I wouldn’t have been able to cope. It’s heart-breaking to see the younger generation of nurses struggling.
I’ve given so much of myself to the NHS and to caring for people with cancer. I am so proud of the difference nurses make at some of the hardest moments of a person’s life. But I wish NHS and government leaders would listen to nurses more. Sometimes I feel so powerless. We nurses are on the frontline and in the best position to know what’s right for the patients, but we often feel unable to change anything.
Despite everything, I love my job. While I’m not always appreciated by management, I always feel appreciated by the patients. Only recently I was with a patient who said, “I wouldn’t have got through any of this without you” – it’s those moments that remind you why you keep going.
That’s what we do – we get people through the worst time of their life. But will we be able to do this much longer? Not if the same pressure that’s on me keeps getting handed down to future nurses. Being a good nurse requires thinking time. You need to be able to put patients first. That’s all we want to do.