By Suzanne Wightman, Admiral Nurse Professional and Practice Development Facilitator (North East)
Pressures within the health and social care systems and lack of support can mean that nurses face stress, anxiety and even burnout, which can result in nurses leaving the sector outright.
The recent report from the Welsh Assembly’s health, social care and sport committee has made several recommendations to improve the welfare of community nurses specifically. The recommendations within this report can no doubt be applied throughout the UK, and indeed across the nursing profession. They include investment in such things as nurses having access to relevant technology to support their work and addressing nursing workforce issues including clinical mix and staffing levels.
However, other types of support, such as professional and practice development, coaching and mentoring also have a role to play in relation to improving retention, and can help to transform the nursing workforce.
‘Admiral Nurses have complex caseloads and face increasing demand’
If we take Dementia UK’s Admiral Nurses as an example, they encounter many of the same pressures in their specialist role working with families affected by dementia. Admiral Nurses have complex caseloads and face increasing demand as the number of people diagnosed with dementia is rising. However, every Admiral Nurse is supported by a member of Dementia UK’s Professional and Practice Development team (PPD) who provide a comprehensive programme of learning and development – including opportunities for coaching and mentoring.
Due to a growing number of Admiral Nurses, the PPD team has increased from one to now eight facilitators to ensure consistent support. Many Admiral Nurses have exceeded 10 years in their roles demonstrating positive retention in what is still a relatively new model of nursing. Formal evaluation has demonstrated that the PPD support is highly valued by Admiral Nurses. Sickness and absence levels amongst Admiral Nurses is also often reported as lower than other nurses or teams, reflecting the benefit of the structured and consistent support provided.
The work of the PPD team includes facilitating monthly PPD days for groups offering peer support, education, practice development and clinical supervision. Additionally, the team provide masterclasses on specialist topics, ‘Community of Practice’ events for nurses in specific settings (such as hospice Admiral Nurses) and individual (1:1) PPD meetings.
The benefits of a coaching approach
These 1:1s are arranged for all newly appointed Admiral Nurses within three months of completing the comprehensive induction programme provided by the PPD team and Dementia UK. These continue at intervals bespoke to each nurse. For some this may amount to a meeting once every 12 months but for others, particularly Admiral Nurses who are not part of a team or are less experienced, it can be as often as every four months. Utilising a coaching approach within both group and individual meetings not only supports development as specialist nurses but also promotes wellbeing and the confidence to transform workplace cultures and inspire others.
Similarly, the opportunity for mentoring within Admiral Nursing is available where more experienced nurses act as role models for newly recruited or less experienced nurses. This support would typically be offered by a Consultant Admiral Nurse or senior colleague.
Feeling alone or ‘invisible’ as a nurse, and the impact on health and wellbeing
When stress, anxiety or burnout occurs, there’s a tendency for nurses to feel alone or ‘invisible’ as declared in the Welsh Assembly report. The impact on health and wellbeing can result in increased sickness levels and nurses leaving the profession. The impact of this may also be felt by those in receipt of nursing services and quality of care can be affected. For this reason, Dementia UK continually strive to deliver effective support to Admiral Nurses and families often report the benefits of this.
Opportunities for nurses to come together as a group or receive individual support to talk about work challenges and working together on solutions is a positive step. Tailored and pro-active support can reduce stress and burnout in the profession and enable nurses to flourish and make a difference. This approach is an important element of the work of the PPD team and colleagues at Dementia UK – it should be the essence of the wider nursing workforce too.