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
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
  • Get to the point
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

    Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey/ South West London

    £22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

    Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey / South West London

    £22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

    Ashdown Group: Recruitment Consultant / Account Manager - Surrey / SW London

    £40000 per annum + realistic targets: Ashdown Group: A thriving recruitment co...

    Ashdown Group: Part-time Payroll Officer - Yorkshire - Professional Services

    £25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful professional services firm is lo...

    Day In a Page

    Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

    Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

    Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

    Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
    China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

    China's influence on fashion

    At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
    Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

    The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

    Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
    Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

    Rainbow shades

    It's all bright on the night
    'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

    Bread from heaven

    Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
    Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

    How 'the Axe' helped Labour

    UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
    Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

    The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

    A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
    'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

    Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

    Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

    The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
    Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

    Vince Cable exclusive interview

    Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
    Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

    Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

    Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
    Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

    It's time for my close-up

    Meet the man who films great whites for a living
    Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

    Homeless people keep mobile phones

    A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before