Nursing case study: On front line of hospital ward crisis

‘Staff are getting burnt-out, they are missing their family lives. They are getting sick’


Ann Doyle began her nursing career the week that Pope John Paul II came to Ireland in 1979. In all that time, she says she has never seen it so bad on the hospital wards as in the past year.

“The staff moratorium caused a problem initially where staff weren’t being kept on. A lot of staff retired because of the changes in pension, or just they were coming to retirement age. It all came with the downturn in the economy,” says the senior staff nurse and member of the Irish Nurses’ and Midwives’ Organisation (INMO).

“A lot of staff who were qualified– and highly qualified – they couldn’t get jobs here. If they got anything it was temporary or very intermittent work so naturally they all went away.

“If I go into work in the morning and we have a colleague off sick, there is no cover given for her. If staff go on maternity leave, there is no cover given, simply because there isn’t the staff there. We are expected to pick up the shortfall in the shifts.

“Staff are getting burnt-out, they are missing out on their family lives. They in turn are getting sick because they are missing so many hours. Then with the shortage of staff, we are under a huge pressure of work.”

Doyle, who works in a major west of Ireland hospital, says nurses there do a standard 39-hour week but regularly receive a call to come in when they are off because there is no back-up staff.

“You can say ‘no’, but very often you feel guilty saying ‘no’ . . . You are worrying for your colleagues, you are worrying for your patients. You know from the previous days what’s happening. You know the big surgeries that are going to be done.

Trolleys block presses

“We constantly have trolleys on our ward. We are restricted to having two trollies but our ward is a 30-bed ward.

“One [trolly] is positioned along by cupboards or presses that we need access to but we can’t get access to. Also, it’s in front of a toilet. Can you imagine trying to sleep with seven other people and they are trying to get in and out of a toilet behind you?

“Every time we come in – I am in a specialised surgical area – and every time we are coming back from theatre with a patient on a bed or trolley, we have to move the trolley and or the first bed to get into the room.

“When the team of doctors come to examine them they can’t even be examined discreetly or with dignity because there are no screens. It’s terrible for people. The patients are in a very vulnerable position. They are ill, they get cross, angry, some can get abusive, and who gets it? The nurse.

“You understand where they are coming from but we are already under pressure and strain. Their family and visitors, they are all annoyed, giving out. And again you can see where they are coming from. Who is in line for it? The nurses.”