We wanted to take a look at how employees within the healthcare industry are coping with the NHS crisis – on top of what is already a very challenging sector to work in – and whether they feel HR is supporting them adequately in their role. In this anonymised interview, a registered NHS nurse and trade union rep argues that greater support should be given to shift workers and more money should be put towards education of staff.
Could you tell us about your current job role?
I’m a registered nurse in an NHS hospital, and I have worked in this area for 5 years. Before nursing I had a role in local government. My job entails shift work and I also have dedicated trade union time. I consider my knowledge to be quite good on employment rights and I know where I can find advice/answers if I need them. I spend a fair bit of time representing members, mainly people with work-related stress and sickness.
What do you enjoy about working in healthcare?
It’s a rewarding career; I enjoy the clinical aspect and working with my colleagues. We are a strong, supportive team with no slackers and a decent work ethic. Our area of work is at times very sad so the support network is essential. I don’t enjoy the pay though and feel we are undervalued. The public really needs to start fighting for the service!
I also love the continuing education I receive and the fact that I learn every day and can develop myself. There is support on the unit for those who wish to progress – I would like to develop a teaching role and that’s achievable where I work so I’m lucky in that respect.
And what do you find most challenging?
Clinically dealing with loss on an almost daily basis, and at times trying to understand why we go on and on treating people when there is little or no chance of recovery and with limited quality of life. I struggle with this a lot... sometimes it feels like torture.
Other challenges are constraints from cuts to our service, ridiculous bed management expectations, staffing levels, the continuous employment of middle management and less time really examining why we can’t recruit and retain! And, of course, the difficult families who feel that it’s okay to abuse you verbally or sometimes even physically.
What do you think of your organisation? Do you feel they care about you as an individual?
In a word, no. There is that show, but at the end of the day it’s business first! We have some good HR officers but we also have some bad ones too. Although if ward managers used HR for advice and support correctly many situations wouldn’t arise.
We have a new CEO and a new board so we’ll have to wait and see what changes occur. I’m quietly hoping for a revolution. I do feel that we are trying to be too corporate and losing sight of the fact that overall our care levels are not great. All the trust seems to focus on is the emergency department – the rest of the hospital is just a backdrop.
There is currently a huge strain on the UK healthcare sector. How do you find this is affecting your day-to-day job?
In the clinical area that I work in we have seen negligible effects as we are somewhat protected from it. However I have seen the wards struggling for supplies and staff.
If you could have any job what would it be?
I’d like to stay where I am but not have to work nights or weekends. I love my clinical role – it’s interesting and rewarding, and we have a good team too.
What does HR mean to you?
In three words: corporate, education and resources. HR is the voice of reason in times of trouble – as a union rep I have a good working relationship with them and find them to be supportive. I ask for advice and they are pretty good at meeting me halfway on cases if they’re able to. While most of the officers are knowledgeable, one or two are unreasonable, but you get that everywhere.
How does your HR team support you?
When I joined the trust the HR support was not particularly great, I didn’t really hear from them that much. I received a staff handbook on induction day, and found most stuff out for myself. But I think we are trying a new package for new starters so that’s good.
If you have an HR-related query, what do you do?
Ring or email.
How effectively do you think your HR team deals with employees’ issues?
I find some HR officers just want to punish people without getting to the core of issues on, for example, sick, work shy or work scared employees. While I understand that some staff are going to flout the rules, they are still in the minority. I feel quite cross that sometimes the officer seems to think they are judge and jury. However, overall I have a good working relationship with them. Most officers I deal with are fair and that’s all you really want.
Finally, what three things would you like your HR team to be doing to enable you to progress in your career?
First, put more money into education. Second, respect that shift workers may get more sick than office staff – the nature of the hours we work means we are more prone to illness. Third, better educate managers on working rights.