Health: PERSONAL NOTES

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Indy Lifestyle Online
Two reports published last week showed that many intensive care beds have been closed and seriously ill patients are being turned away. One of the reasons given is a shortage of nurses who have the appropriate training.

Helene Smith (right), 37, is senior sister on Lydia ward, a six-bed intensive care (IC) unit, and manager of a 24-bed surgical ward at the Royal Alexandra Hospital for Sick Children in Brighton.

Training: five years. ICU experience: 12 years.

Annual earnings: £21,000.

The job: "Today I was supposed to be on the surgical side but the IC duty nurse - she's 22 weeks pregnant - started bleeding. So I was in ICU looking after a child who'd had major surgery. I did a long day: from 7.15am to 9.45pm.

"For one patient we have one qualified nurse on all the time. I work a 37-and-a-half- hour week but often it's more like 45 hours because of staff sickness, vacancies, the nature of the job.

"Some children have had major operations, others serious infections: bronchiolitis has been particularly bad this winter; we've had to ventilate about 12 cases so far. We get other respiratory problems, acute asthma attacks. And meningitis has been bad: we've had three cases; two children died.

"The boy today was 15, born without a complete oesophagus. He needed another operation to prevent food refluxing out of his tummy. Afterwards he was on a ventilator, on a morphine pump, on three different types of drips.

"There's still a lot of basic care in this job: washing, changing, feeding if need be, turning. And a lot of observation: checking drips, watching monitors, watching the child.

"I spent a long time with this boy talking about his body image - they had to make another incision, another scar, because they couldn't use the old one."

Job pros: "Working with children and their families. Relationships can get very close; we've made it a lovely environment, it's colourful and not at all clinical."

Job cons: "Once the bronchiolitis season starts you will have two or three children in all the time; then an outlying hospital rings up and asks you to take a two-year-old who needs ventilating. You have to find an extra nurse to cover and if you can't you have to say no."

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