A line in the sand

Venorica O'Doherty wonders who will care for the carers.

Morality, like art, means drawing a line someplace. Oscar Wilde (1854 – 1900).

When cynicism becomes the norm in a workplace you know there is a problem unfolding before your eyes. In health care workers from all sectors in hospitals, in primary care and voluntary bodies and across all the health professions I see signs of serious stress and sometimes outright burn out.

Stress is the silent epidemic in our health care system that is being ignored. When good people lose the love and motivation for the job they trained for many years to do it should be a major concern for all of us in society.

Working in health care is challenging, rewarding and also difficult at times. It is never an easy job to face head on the despair of a family whose child is terminally ill; to provide support for the whole family, and to nurse their child to an easier death. It is never an easy job to give evidence in court case after case for each child that is hurt by physical, sexual and emotional abuse. It is never an easy job to perform surgery on a person when it’s the only option – one which may give relief from a painful condition, yet the outcome may not be guaranteed. It is never an easy job to see anyone on a trolley in A&E, nor indeed is it easy to turn someone away at the door because there is no room at the inn. (But then we don’t ever do that do we?)

Health care professionals want to do what they do best. Their job is to facilitate healing and support people to die if healing is not possible. Healing has physical, psychological and social aspects and human beings bring their complex individual histories to clinics, GP practices, theatres and primary care settings. A myriad of specialties are interwoven to work together to support people on their journey to wellbeing. When that web breaks down we have things half done, partially done or not at all. The result is frustration and sometimes despair, as professionals know such a breakdown is not good enough. When the tapestry comes together and when people feel they are truly getting every support necessary health professionals can sleep well at night, knowing that they did the best they could do.

Since the inception of the HSE, and in fact for many years beforehand, change document after change document has been published and presented, some with lovely pictures on them - butterflies transforming themselves, for example. But over a decade or more of ‘transformations’ not one plan has included a change management strategy that realises that health care workers are human beings also. They cannot continually lurch from one change to the next with confusion and uncertainty as their daily medicine. Something has to give way, and I think it has. The levels of stress are sky high. This manifests itself at first as cynicism, then as an admission that from people that they want to get out of the system, or want to retire if they can. This is a very sad reality for the Irish health system.

When it gets to the point that health care professionals need to take care of themselves as they begin to suffer the effects of long-term stress we have a major problem that needs to be addressed. Motivation and vocation for this type of work is an essential component of good health care, and unless we wake up to that fact and start treating health professionals with the care they truly deserve for the hard job they do every day we will regret the loss of the legacy of caring which has been a cornerstone in Irish health. Just don’t say you haven’t been warned.

The author is writing here in a personal capacity.



 Image top: leeroy09481.