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)

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
Seth Rollins cashes in his Money in the Bank contract to win the WWE World Heavyweight Championship
WWERollins wins the WWE World Heavyweight title in one of the greatest WrestleMania's ever seen
Arts and Entertainment
Jay Z has placed a bet on streaming being the future for music and videos
Arts and Entertainment
tvPoldark, TV review
(David Sandison)
newsHow living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: Technical Support Manager

    Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This leading provider of refrigeration, mechan...

    Recruitment Genius: 3rd Line IT Support / Senior Engineer / Support Analyst

    £24000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An exciting opportunity has ari...

    Recruitment Genius: Field Sales Executive - OTE £60,000

    £25000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Recognised as one of the fastes...

    Recruitment Genius: Operations Manager - Refrigeration

    Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This leading provider of refrigeration, mechan...

    Day In a Page

    No postcode? No vote

    Floating voters

    How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
    Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

    By Reason of Insanity

    Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
    Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

    Power dressing is back

    But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
    Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

    Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

    Caves were re-opened to the public
    'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

    Vince Cable interview

    'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
    Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

    Promises, promises

    But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
    The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

    The death of a Gaza fisherman

    He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
    Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

    Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

    Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
    Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

    The only direction Zayn could go

    We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
    Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

    Spells like teen spirit

    A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
    Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

    If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

    British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
    Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

    Licence to offend in the land of the free

    Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
    From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

    From farm to fork in Cornwall

    One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
    Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

    Robert Parker interview

    The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
    Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

    Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

    We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor