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Project to nurse the nurse

Nurses are the backbone of the health care system but little attention is paid to what keeps them well and happy.

Despite the increasing challenge Australia is facing in recruiting and retaining nurses, little attention is being given to what keeps them happy, researchers say.

And with the current workforce shortage predicted to worsen, they say it is essential to give “due focus” on the wellbeing of the profession.

This can begin with introducing simple techniques to support the physical, mental and social wellbeing of hospital nurses.

The researchers, from both CQUniversity and Rockhampton Base Hospital, are collaborating on the project ‘Every Nurse Counts’, led by Professor Brenda Happell.

“Nurses are the backbone of the health care system but little attention is paid to what keeps them well and happy,” Happell said.

“Given the problems in recruiting and retaining nurses, improving their health and well-being is essential.”

Widely recognised as a high-pressure environment, the hospital day changes quickly, said Shelley Nowlan, district executive director of nursing services.

“Every hour we have admissions coming to our wards, we have discharges coming to our wards, we have patients ringing buzzers, we have other health professionals wanting our attention,” Nowlan said.

“It’s really important to make sure that’s balanced and that we take time and take stock to prioritise what we are doing. If we can’t manage the workloads we can look at other resources to see if others can assist or delegate some of that care. We don’t have to do everything at once.”

Recent research showed nurses were among Australia’s most stressed workers, alongside police and paramedics.

Data on workers compensation, compiled by Safe Work Australia, shows about 7000 claims are made each year for mental stress.

People working in the health and community services sector reported the highest number of claims, closely followed by education workers.

Matthew Johnson, nursing director of the education research unit at Rockhampton Hospital, said staff were working long hours with multiple shifts, so there were always issues about workload pressures. Recently there had been a lot of additional stress with payroll problems, he said.

“Our research project may come up with some fruitful ideas to handle this. We’ve done some original focus groups to see what the issues are,” Johnson said.

“The intention now is to do more detailed research that will show changes over time with some of the interventions we are hoping to bring in.”

Happell said patient care tended to be paramount for health workers.

“Nurses are very busy people. Their whole profession is based on caring for others, so they tend to think more about their patients needs than their own. We need to say it’s OK to acknowledge you are stressed and do something about it,” she said.

Rather than being just another project that indentifies the problem, Happel said this would provide actual strategies.

“Some interventions might be as simple as posters to send a message they are appreciated or something funny to give them a laugh. We are hoping to develop things that can become part of the culture of the ward, encouraging people to feel part of a social group and part of a broader team.”

The project was launched during July in conjunction with Stress Down Day.

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