A day in the life of an angel: Nurses are leaving Britain in droves. Sarah Strickland joined one during an exhausting day's duty on the wards

IT'S 7.30am on Handfield Jones ward, the transplant unit at St Mary's Hospital in west London.

Senior staff nurse Hilary Fanning has just finished the night shift and is handing over to the morning staff. About eight nurses are gathered round, notepads on knees.

It wasn't a quiet night. One woman bled profusely. Another was incontinent. One man needed to talk, though they were really too busy.

By eight o'clock the breakfast trolley has arrived and it's time to get on. Jutta Herrmann is one of the most junior nurses on the ward. She came to Britain from Germany when she was 18 and qualified in 1983. Last December she finished a conversion course to become a registered general nurse; she began work on the ward in June.

She earns pounds 12,400 a year, including London weighting. She has considered going back to Germany, where she would earn more money, but is going to be married in Britain.

'One friend went to America and saved enough to put down a deposit on a house. But I didn't go into nursing for the money.'

Last week she finished seven 11-hour night-shifts in a row. Yesterday she did overtime, working from 7.30am till 9.15pm. 'The work is physically and mentally exhausting and you have to study at home too to keep yourself up- to-date - I'm in a new job and have a lot to learn.'

Jutta looks after about eight patients. As she begins to give them their breakfast she has to leave a tray at the bottom of a bed and rush off to prepare an insulin injection. Handing out meals is frustrating. 'I'm so busy, it's really a waste of my time,' she says. Yet she does it with care, bending over a patient, buttering and slicing his bread.

One patient stretches out his arms as she approaches. Someone else needs an injection and another patient is unhappy about an operation he is due to have in a few hours. He wants to talk it over. Jutta listens, reassures him, then goes to phone the department concerned - could someone come over to see him? Not having enough time to counsel patients is another frustration. 'It can be quite traumatic for them. The psychological care is so important, but I have too much to do.'

At 9am Jutta starts making beds, chatting with patients as she goes. The newspaper trolley has been and the cleaner is vacuuming, scraping furniture across the floor. A team of doctors is touring the ward.

Jutta gets an elderly patient up and accompanies him to dialysis. He is painfully slowly on his Zimmer frame. Then there's a phone call to answer and another patient to prepare for the theatre: she is scared and doesn't want to go; she asks for the commode. 'I can't wait, I can't hold it in, quick, quick]' Jutta hurries down the corridor.

By 10.30am she has been on her feet for two-and-a-half hours and scrubbed her hands at least eight times. Time for a break.

Down in the canteen, staff nurse Dave Ring is scouring the job adverts in Nursing Times. 'Isn't everyone?' comments another nurse wrily. 'Nursing is a qualification you can take abroad so it's silly not to go, really,' says Dave. But people often say they'll go and don't'

After 20 minutes Jutta is looking at her watch. A patient needs washing and turning. Jutta carefully brushes his hair and eyebrows. He can't speak but she talks to him gently, empties his urine bag, and washes her hands yet again.

Before lunch there are pulses, temperatures and blood pressures to check, another bed to make, another patient to wash. Meals are handed out, then at 12.45 Jutta has to collect a patient from the theatre. She brings him up in the lift, wheels the bed into his room, takes his blood pressure and fills in his chart.

At 1.15 she takes a half-hour lunch break, then it's straight back to check with her team leader, who is going home. An incontinent patient needs changing, washing and turning, then another who has come off dialysis needs an enema - it's the tenth pair of rubber gloves of the day.

A new patient is arriving so the bed needs preparing, then Jutta starts telling the next shift about her patients. But at 2.45 there's an emergency - a young woman has suddenly gone into convulsions.

The ward is galvanized into action, eight doctors and nurses gather around her bed. 'Get suction]' someone cries and Jutta runs to fetch it, rushing off again to look for cot sides to prevent the patient falling out of bed.

Another nurse has got Jutta's patient off the commode but he calls her over, pointing to a mess on the sheets. Another set of sheets, another hand-wash. Then another attempt to brief the next shift. But a patient is leaving and her medicine needs checking. It is 3.30, officially the end of Jutta's shift. But she still has to write a report on each patient.

Just as she starts, she's called to the phone - can she collect a patient from theatre? The new shift is at tea and she can't leave the ward.

She finishes her reports and goes to get changed at 4pm. 'Today hasn't been that busy,' she says.

What on earth is a busy day like, I wonder? I'm feeling shattered, humbled, and extremely thankful that I wasn't shadowing her on an 11-hour late shift.

(Photograph omitted)

News
Young Winstone: His ‘tough-guy’ image is a misconception
people
Sport
Adnan Januzaj and Gareth Bale
footballManchester United set to loan out Januzaj to make room for Bale - if a move for the Welshman firms up
Arts and Entertainment
Ellie Levenson’s The Election book demystifies politics for children
bookNew children's book primes the next generation for politics
News
Outspoken: Alexander Fury, John Rentoul, Ellen E Jones and Katy Guest
newsFrom the Scottish referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
News
i100
Sport
Yaya Sanogo, Mats Hummels, Troy Deeney and Adnan Januzaj
footballMost Premier League sides are after a striker, but here's a full run down of the ins and outs that could happen over the next month
News
Nigel Farage celebrates with a pint after early local election results in the Hoy and Helmet pub in South Benfleet in Essex
peopleHe has shaped British politics 'for good or ill'
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams' “Happy” was the most searched-for song lyric of 2014
musicThe power of song never greater, according to our internet searches
Sport
Tim Sherwood raises his hand after the 1-0 victory over Stoke
footballFormer Tottenham boss leads list of candidates to replace Neil Warnock
Voices
Strictly Come Dancing was watched by 6.9m viewers
voicesIt has been hard to form generally accepted cultural standards since the middle of the 19th century – and the disintegration is only going to accelerate, says DJ Taylor
Arts and Entertainment
Roffey says: 'All of us carry shame and taboo around about our sexuality. But I was determined not to let shame stop me writing my memoir.'
books
News
Danielle George is both science professor and presenter
people
News
i100
News
Caplan says of Jacobs: 'She is a very collaborative director, and gives actors a lot of freedom. She makes things happen.'
people
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Selby Jennings: VP/SVP Credit Quant- NY- Investment Bank

    Not specified: Selby Jennings: VP/SVP Credit Quant Top tier investment bank i...

    Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executive- City of London, Old Street

    £40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executiv...

    Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager

    £40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: An international organisa...

    Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwickshire

    £25000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwicksh...

    Day In a Page

    War with Isis: The West needs more than a White Knight

    The West needs more than a White Knight

    Despite billions spent on weapons, the US has not been able to counter Isis's gruesome tactics, says Patrick Cockburn
    Return to Helmand: Private Davey Graham recalls the day he was shot by the Taliban

    'The day I was shot by the Taliban'

    Private Davey Graham was shot five times during an ambush in 2007 - it was the first, controversial photograph to show the dangers our soldiers faced in Helmand province
    Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

    Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

    Many flyers are failing to claim compensation to which they are entitled, a new survey has found
    The stories that defined 2014: From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions

    The stories that defined 2014

    From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
    Stoke-on-Trent becomes first British city to be classified as 'disaster resilient' by the United Nations

    Disaster looming? Now you know where to head...

    Which British city has become the first to be awarded special 'resilience' status by the UN?
    Finally, a diet that works: Californian pastor's wildly popular Daniel Plan has seen his congregation greatly reduced

    Finally, a diet that works

    Californian pastor's wildly popular Daniel Plan has seen his congregation greatly reduced
    Say it with... lyrics: The power of song was never greater, according to our internet searches

    Say it with... lyrics

    The power of song was never greater, according to our internet searches
    Professor Danielle George: On a mission to bring back the art of 'thinkering'

    The joys of 'thinkering'

    Professor Danielle George on why we have to nurture tomorrow's scientists today
    Monique Roffey: The author on father figures, the nation's narcissism and New Year reflections

    Monique Roffey interview

    The author on father figures, the nation's narcissism and New Year reflections
    Introducing my anti-heroes of 2014

    Introducing my anti-heroes of 2014

    Their outrageousness and originality makes the world a bit more interesting, says Ellen E Jones
    DJ Taylor: Good taste? It's all a matter of timing...

    Good taste? It's all a matter of timing...

    It has been hard to form generally accepted cultural standards since the middle of the 19th century – and the disintegration is only going to accelerate, says DJ Taylor
    Olivia Jacobs & Ben Caplan: 'Ben thought the play was called 'Christian Love'. It was 'Christie in Love' - about a necrophiliac serial killer'

    How we met

    Olivia Jacobs and Ben Caplan
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's breakfasts will revitalise you in time for the New Year

    Bill Granger's healthy breakfasts

    Our chef's healthy recipes are perfect if you've overindulged during the festive season
    Transfer guide: From Arsenal to West Ham - what does your club need in the January transfer window?

    Who does your club need in the transfer window?

    Most Premier League sides are after a striker, but here's a full run down of the ins and outs that could happen over the next month
    The Last Word: From aliens at FA to yak’s milk in the Tour, here’s to 2015

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    From aliens at FA to yak’s milk in the Tour, here’s to 2015