FEATURE: Nurses share the satisfactions of a role on Stevenage’s Lister hospital’s front line

Staff members Julie Maher, Carolyn Fowler, Charlene Hollingworth, Jacqui Attrill and Joanne Hay at L

Staff members Julie Maher, Carolyn Fowler, Charlene Hollingworth, Jacqui Attrill and Joanne Hay at Lister Hospital. - Credit: Archant

Helen Wright finds out how NHS trust bosses are working to drive down the number of unfilled jobs

Pay scales have been changed for cleaners at Lister Hospital.

Pay scales have been changed for cleaners at Lister Hospital. - Credit: Archant

We’ve all heard the hospital horror stories – the endless waiting times, the missed A&E targets, the shortage of nursing staff. But did whoever told you those stories know what they were talking about?

As Stevenage’s Lister Hospital puts the finishing touches to its £150 million facelift and continues to work to drive down the number of vacancies at the enlarged site, what’s it like to be on the frontline in nursing and care work these days?

Full of challenges and frustrations, to be sure – but full of satisfaction, too, and the hospital wants to spread the word that there are rewarding jobs on offer for the right people.

Nurses and care support workers are recruited in a number of different ways – some start as apprentices, others join after university, but all of them are part of the team at the Coreys Mill Lane complex because they care about nursing.

Many, like Joanne Hay, can think of doing nothing else.

The 46-year-old is in the third and final year of her studies at the University of Hertfordshire and wears the bright blue scrubs that mark her out as a student nurse to patients and other staff members.

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Her course is split 50/50 between practical application at Lister Hospital and theory.

Speaking in a quiet room on the seventh floor, she said: “I feel incredibly supported by the other members of staff.

“The training is really good because I get to work in really diverse areas, I have been doing a lot of community care but at the moment I’m working in the treatment centre, in theatre and recovery. I am getting a lot of great experience.”

Joanne lives in Broxbourne and said that even though there’s another hospital closer to her, she’s planning to apply for a job with the East & North Herts NHS Trust, which runs the Lister, when her course ends later this year.

Joanne used to work in care homes and is a former dancer – she even once did a tap dance for a patient – and her career change has had long reaching effects in her personal life which she couldn’t have predicted.

She told me: “My 14-year-old daughter is choosing her GCSE options at the moment and she has decided she wants to become a midwife because she has been looking through my study books.

“And my husband now wants to retrain as a paramedic.”

Julie Maher has also come from a care home background, and started at the Lister two months ago as a care support worker.

CSWs look after patients and work alongside nurses, helping out with tasks like taking blood pressure readings, observations and taking patients to the toilet.

The 46-year-old who lives in Stevenage said: “I wanted to move onto something more diverse, to work with a wider range of people. So far it has been wonderful and I have learned a lot.”

Carolyn Fowler, the NHS trust’s assistant director of nursing education and research, looks after staff nurses and supports their professional development.

She says professional development is a key part of being a nurse or CSW, and is something people like Julie will never stop working on throughout their time at the hospital.

She said: “If you didn’t want to keep learning I think you would have to ask yourself very seriously why you wanted a job here.”

Head of resourcing Pawel Tamberg is responsible for making sure vacancies are filled.

There are around 5,200 people on the payroll and the vacancy rate is steadily dropping – his aim is to have it down to five per cent by September.

When we spoke, the figure was around nine per cent – missing around one in 10 people from the ranks sounds alarmingly high, but 300 more staff were in the process of being hired and the headline rate has already fallen since then.

One reason for the shortage of nurses – an issue faced by hospitals all over the country – is the government decision to slash 4,000 student nursing places at universities back in 2011.

“We are all now fishing from a smaller pool,” he said.

“Even if we hired every nurse that came out of the University of Hertfordshire we wouldn’t have enough to make up the numbers.”

This is partly the reason why staff from overseas are hired to make up the shortfall.

“It is what everyone focuses on, but it really is a very small part of a massive campaign,” he said.

The NHS trust uses radio, newspaper and magazines to advertise posts as well as recruitment websites and local Jobcentres, which are also used to hold recruitment drives.

Like Joanne, staff nurse Charlene Hollingworth studied at the University of Hertfordshire and trained at the Lister and QEII hospitals.

The 31-year-old has been working in the emergency department for six months after graduating last year – as one of the newest recruits she helped perform the official opening of the department with secretary of state for health Jeremy Hunt earlier this month.

She works three shifts a week, which doesn’t sound like much, but each is 12 hours long.

Charlene, who lives in Hitchin, says she does not have to work extra overtime unless she wants too – but she did work over the hectic Christmas and new year period which saw the hospital shut its doors to new ‘non-serious’ patients as it battled to cope with a surge in patients.

The former accountant said: “It was challenging, really challenging – but I got a lot of support.”

Although vacancy rates are dropping, filling the gaps is still a headache.

Carolyn Fowler said: “We are finding it a real challenge to as there are no NHS nurses wanting to work in the south.

“We have to try and entice them back, and one way we do that is with great facilities.

“We used to have a shortage of midwives, but since we opened the Diamond Jubilee maternity centre it’s been more of a problem of which ones to pick.”

You can find out about vacancies with the NHS trust online at www.enherts-tr.nhs.uk.

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