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Emotional cost of nursing must be addressed

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Emotional cost of nursing could impact on patients Emotional cost of nursing could impact on patients

The toll of performing 'emotional labour' in nursing must be addressed, or patient care will suffer, a leading nursing academic said today.

Speaking at the Midlands and East general practice nurses conference at the Alton Towers Hotel on 24 February, Yvonne Sawbridge, a senior fellow at the University of Birmingham, explained that while it is well understood that a staff member's wellbeing was vital, the emotional health of nurses was frequently overlooked. This could lead to poor patient care.

Ms Sawbridge was part of a team from the University of Birmingham, looked at the underlying reasons for poor care on an organisational level, after the release of the Francis Report. She said: 'We started looking behind some of the examples of poor nursing care to broaden out the compelling narrative in the media, which is pitting patients against nurses. As if being clever and being caring are mutually exclusive. We came across this concept of emotional labour.'

Emotional labour is a term used to describe the effects of working in a distressing or depressing situation. Similar to physical labour, emotional labour can exhaust a person, particularly in healthcare workers, who regularly experience 'disgusting and frightening' incidents in the course of their work. According to Ms Sawbridge, this can lead to a loss of engagement with patients, and eventually a lack of compassion entirely.

Speaking to Independent Nurse, Ms Sawbridge said: 'We have always known that if you look after your staff, they will look after your patients. However, emotional labour requires a specific response from employers. It must be recognised that, as a role requirement, nurses must undertake emotional labour. They need to be supported, and managers have a duty to ensure that their nurses are emotionally stable and providing the best care that a patient can possibly receive.'

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Actually, your definition of emotional labour is incorrect. I can understand that you need to make a complex concept simple, but it is important to understand that it is having to suppress your own emotions in order to present a role appropriate outward emotion. You don't have to be in depressing work to do that- and I feel uncomfortable about describing nursing as depressing work- that was not my experience and I am sure the vast majority of nurses wont see it like that- coping with distress yes- but that is different! Thanks for highlighting this work though- very keen to generate a wider set of understanding out there! Yvonne
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