"Worries about apparently low staffing levels for Brearley at Sheffield NGH"

About: Northern General Hospital / Respiratory medicine

(as the patient),

I have Becker muscular dystrophy and am a full time wheelchair user. I transfer independently with some assistance but I cannot turn myself in bed unless I have hand controls for a profiling bed. I was admitted to Sheffield NGH in early Nov 2012 and spent 5 days on a Brearley ward.

Despite reading the useful Welcome/Info Leaflet for the Critical Care Department (PD4796-PL1600 x3), which said that the more ‘normal’ atmosphere provided on a ward is an important step towards recovery and rehabilitation, I remained excited to be moving off the HDU after 9 long days.

However, there was nothing ‘normal’ about the Bay on Brearley where I was wheeled to and left with five older patients, four of whom were semi naked all aged 80 to 85, where one or two of them would beg intermittently for attention or mostly just sit and stare into space.

Somewhat comically the chap who wheeled me to the Bay tried to turn me around into a position to face the ‘throng’ of fellow patients. I actually felt scared, depressed and very lonely. Maybe this doesn’t reflect well on me – or maybe it does?

Despite the obvious bleakness I did manage to string up one or two good wee conversations with the patient across from me who had been admitted from a nursing home in the North of the City. But I am sure most people would agree this was not a ‘normal’ atmosphere for a 48 year old man trying to recover from a huge life threatening incident in his relatively young life. Heartbreakingly my 8 year old daughter couldn’t even pop into see me.

Thankfully, it was down to one astute Sister/Ward Manager who observed I would recover better in a side room. Despite this it took a further 12 hours to get moved there despite the side room being empty when the suggestion was made.

Side Room on Brearley - Brilliant

Very few members of staff seemed interested in their patients, except, on about the third night, I did manage to chat to a couple of Support Workers who, having listened to me tell them what it was like to be unable to anything in hospital because of the muscular dystrophy, they then took a genuine interest and were very understanding.

One of the Support Workers who worked constantly from the moment she was on the ward was one of two nursing staff who had to leave me sitting on a bed pan for 15 minutes while they tried to catch up with the other patients on the ward. I waited and I waited and I waited as I was sure they would work out some way of not having to leave me on the bed pan for too long and they would get their other patients attended too.

This made me think of the attention the older patients needed – two of whom obviously had what appeared to be quite severe forms of dementia – I felt they were placed in a really dangerous situation. Not due to the lack of skills from the staff around but rather the paltry low no’s of staff, especially at night time.

One of the older gentlemen from the Bay, one of the gents with dementia who was developing a wandering phase in his condition came into the side room I was in and sat on the comfy chair. I pressed my call button and sure enough someone came eventually – no one seemed too worried he had gone missing.

Saving Lives

I heard amazing skills and intense aptitude from nursing staff during the night as two or three times they brought one of the older gentlemen back from life threatening situations.

This is the business end of course – but does this excuse a lack of skills – or sometimes just good manners - in other areas?

Levels of staffing on Brearley

The Royal College of Nursing released figures from their members saying that low staffing meant care suffered in a variety of ways. For example, 8 in 10 said basic support, such as talking and comforting patients, was compromised, while a third said they did not have time to help people properly with eating and drinking.

The Care Quality Commission (CQC) earlier last year issued warnings to some 17 NHS Hospitals who were observed to operating out-with safe staffing levels. I saw four semi naked men 80-85 in a bay in the ward I was sent to all begging for attention and left to stare into space. Some nurses were obviously finding it hard. Overall I just thought there was a clear lack of support for staff. Why no specialist dementia nursing or the presence of therapeutic staff for them?

This is not the fault of nursing staff and my concerns are not being laid at their door. It is for senior managers to try and sort this because without employing enough staff you will not be able to provide the standards of care we have come to expect of Sheffield Teaching Hospitals.

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Response from Sheffield Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust

Dear Crooksy

Thank you for providing us with feedback on your recent stay in the Northern General Hospital.

I am sorry that, in certain aspects, your care fell below the high standard we would wish our patients to experience and we will certainly look into the concerns you raise. If you would like to receive a response from us please do contact the Patients Services Team on 0114 271 2400 or pst.nhs.uk and our Chief Executive will write back to you personally.

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