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  • 19 December 2018
  • 4 min read

What does the impending winter crisis mean for nurses?

  • Ruth Underdown
    Nurse & Nurses.co.uk Specialist Writer

It's the most wonderful time of the year - well, for most anyway. The NHS is about to face the annual winter crisis - for nurses, festivities are put on hold. Ruth explains the effects of the winter crisis on the NHS.

For many nurses, family time is sacrificed to ensure patients have a relatively healthy and enjoyable Christmas.

Ah, once again we’re heading into the season of merriment, food and excess or in the case of the NHS, winter crisis.

Although, so far this winter, it’s been surprisingly quiet in the headlines about the NHS in crisis.

I can only assume that this is due to all headlines being dominated by the coming Brexit, in whatever form it takes.

Whilst Parliament slowly implodes on itself, the day to day life of nurses keep on keeping on.

It's true that the winter crisis doesn’t really start until the New Year is fully underway, but the winter pressures have already noticeably kicked in for those working in both the acute and community sector.

But then, these days, it never truly alleviates, even in high summer.

The main health headlines seem to be around the possibility of a shortage of medicines post Brexit and the ongoing concern over retention and recruitment of nurses once Brexit happens.

In the meantime, the seasonal festivities are about to launch into full swing with the evidence of patients and excesses of alcohol already appearing in A&E departments across the country.

We haven’t had a proper cold snap yet this year either, so the influx of falls and fractures has been limited.

If you look hard enough though, there is warning of an impending winter crisis to surpass all of those previously.

Every year is unpredictable, and we never know what to expect

Beyond the Brexit headlines, the slow creep of concerns about what will happen when the winter crisis starts to hit.

Will it be worse than last year?

How much worse could it be?

How much worse can it get?

The truth is, no one really knows but NHS England is putting contingencies in place to try to alleviate pressures.

The problem being, what if there aren’t enough clinicians to go around?

When you’re running at capacity, even with a full compliment of staff there is still the possibility of illness affecting numbers of staff available and that’s before the staffing or winter pressures.

In the meantime, we nurses will do the best that we can to give the right care to the right patient at the right time despite the pressures and constraints placed upon us.

Christmas is once again put on hold

We’ll be there in the early hours of Christmas morning caring for the sick and dying.

Whilst our patients may be offered a hospital made roast dinner, we will have our leftovers reheated or treat ourselves to a ‘luxury microwave meal for one.’ Then go back to grazing on the snacks behind the nurse’s station left by relatives for the staff as thanks.

District nurses and community staff will be out in the wind, rain or snow, making sure that patients get their insulin before enjoying time with their families.

Palliative care teams will renew syringe drivers and give stat doses to keep patients comfortable in their final hours and days.

Midwives will encourage and support women labouring through pain that they don’t believe they can bear.

Mental health nurses will continue to provide support to those in crisis and A&E nurses will be there on what may well be the worst day of some people’s lives.

It might be Christmas, but life doesn’t stop and neither do nursing jobs.

We are there on the happiest of days and the darkest, leaving our own families to be there for others.

I wrote a blog post last Christmas explaining what working on ward over Christmas is like - it may reassure you that, actually, working over Christmas isn't all doom and gloom.

Wherever you might be over the Christmas period, I hope you manage to spend time with your own families and get some well-earned rest before heading into the New Year and the challenges that it will inevitably bring.

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About the author

  • Ruth Underdown
    Nurse & Nurses.co.uk Specialist Writer

Since qualifying in Adult Nursing in 2002 I’ve worked as a specialist nurse with the NHS, and in the private sector as a general nurse and sessional nurse for a hospital at home team (I’ve been about a bit!). Also kept nice and busy by my young family!

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  • Ruth Underdown
    Nurse & Nurses.co.uk Specialist Writer

About the author

  • Ruth Underdown
    Nurse & Nurses.co.uk Specialist Writer

Since qualifying in Adult Nursing in 2002 I’ve worked as a specialist nurse with the NHS, and in the private sector as a general nurse and sessional nurse for a hospital at home team (I’ve been about a bit!). Also kept nice and busy by my young family!