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I’m a newly qualified nurse – the lack of support I receive is dangerous

Caring for patients on my own puts lives at risk – but what else can I do when there’s no one there to help?

By Anonymous

Beginning my journey as a newly registered nurse has been a whirlwind of growth and change. I’ve been welcomed warmly to the wards by doctors and nursing colleagues, but the camaraderie masks a daunting increase in my duties. Every day, still only a few months into my role, I have an almost overwhelming amount of responsibility for my patients’ care. It’s a job I love, but when we have too many patients and not enough support, it can feel impossible.

The government should be doing more. New data from the Royal College of Nursing reveals that more than half of the public (54 per cent) believe the health secretary is legally responsible for NHS service delivery. After all, it’s ministers who are meant to ensure nursing vacancies are filled. The harsh truth is that ministers carry no legal responsibility for safe care – it’s nursing staff like me who are accountable.

When a newly registered nurse first comes on to a ward there’s supposed to be a period of formal support, known as preceptorship. It’s designed to ease nurses into the profession and ensure they’re not taking on responsibilities they don’t have the experience for.

Sadly, pressures right across the NHS mean a proper preceptorship is a dream. Experienced staff don’t have time to mentor those new to the profession and the wards are very busy. The prospect of taking charge in a crisis is intimidating. While I know the theory, it feels scary that I might need to lead a cardiac arrest when I’ve only ever been involved with one as a student years ago. I’m confident in my ability, and I know when to ask for help. Trying something without knowing what to do in nursing puts people’s lives at risk, but when there’s no one else there, what can I do?

The lack of guidance and mentoring is a constant worry – there have been times when I’ve been the only person working on my ward for an entire shift. The Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) code is clear that as professionals, we must raise our concerns about patient care – including if we aren’t equipped to provide safe treatment.

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Each shift I must navigate the challenge of caring for eight or more patients. Patients need my attention, whether it be due to deterioration in health or just because people need time spent with them in hospital, otherwise they feel even more isolated and alone. In some instances, I’ve witnessed nurses tending to ten, 15, or more patients, straining our ability to deliver quality care, and leaving no room for error. Making the challenges worse is the staggering waiting list backlog (now at 7.6 million cases), despite the Prime Minister’s promises to bring it down.

The daily reality on the wards mirrors the myth of Sisyphus, who was condemned to roll a boulder up a hill for eternity – it’s an exhausting cycle of discharging one patient only to face their immediate replacement with another. Beds are in perpetual demand, and meticulous planning fails to keep pace with patient need. As a safety-critical profession, it staggers me that despite clearly not having enough staff to provide safe care, there seems to be no plan to deal with this. The problems just reset to where they started when we hand over to the next shift.

My experiences as a newly registered nurse highlight the pressing need to address staffing issues, ensure proper preceptorship, and reassess the treatment of nursing as a profession. Change is desperately needed, not just for nurses but for the patients relying on our care.

It’s time to break the cycle and construct a strong foundation for the future of healthcare. With an election looming, politicians should remember that healthcare has been starved of funding for years, and the need for reform is urgent. That could start with ministers taking accountability for nursing workforce planning, putting in place clear rules for safe staffing, and stopping the torrent of nurses leaving our NHS because of the unhealthy working practices that currently exist.

[See also: Why we need more neighbourhood policing]

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