Suicide rates for doctors, nurses and allied healthcare workers are rising and being involved in a safety incident increases this risk. The need to support staff when things go wrong is evident.
We come to work to do the very best we can for our patients, often ignoring and at the cost of our own health. Most adverse incidents happen, not because we are bad at what we do, but because of system failure. As professionals who care passionately about our work, we blame ourselves when things go wrong. Albert Wu (2000) recognised this phenomenon and coined the term second victim.
In this series of blogs I will share my own experiences of setting up and developing Safety Incident Supporting Our Staff (SISOS). In this first blog I explain the catalyst that led to developing SISOS.
In the changing rooms where I worked as a scrub nurse, I overheard a group of nurses discussing the distressed state of a young doctor. There had been a never event in their theatre that day and the young doctor was the operating surgeon.
Moved to tears I wanted to go and put my arms around that doctor but I didn’t feel that I had ‘permission’. ‘It was none of my business, what if I made things worse?’ So I dumped my scrub suit into the laundry bin, put my theatre shoes away and went home.
I’m a theatre nurse but more importantly I’m a mother, the mother of a young doctor and that night fearful for the surgeon’s safety I was unable to rest. If it was my daughter I would have wanted someone to be there for her.
Galvanised by a mother’s strength, I vowed that nothing could or would hold me back and so the next morning I wasted no time in knocking on my matron’s door. "I was worried about that young doctor last night", I said. "So was I", said my matron. "I rang her and she’s coping’". I was relieved to hear this but as I turned away I realised that there was an urgent need for timely, accessible structured support for when things go wrong.
I reflected on an incident that had happened to me and I asked myself this question: What would have helped me, at one o’clock in the morning, all those years ago, when I sat alone in a hospital tea room: devastated, anxious, ashamed, guilty, having flashbacks and feeling like the worst nurse on the planet? I had let my patient down.
Two things came out of those reflections. Firstly, I had craved the companionship and compassion of my colleagues because I knew that they above all people would get it. They would understand how this situation could possibly have arisen without attaching blame. Secondly I recognised the need for a safe space, a place where my dignity could have been protected and I could have shared this experience in privacy. As far as I was concerned, my name was in neon lights, I was the failed nurse, there to be gawped at.
These two experiences, the young doctor’s and my own were the catalyst for SISOS. Safety Incident Supporting Our Staff.
Chase Farm Hospital now has 24-hour support for staff affected by adverse events. The model which I’ve developed is known as the 365 second victim support model and sets out a framework to provide support at various levels from trained peers through to professional help.
The care which we can now give our second victims is compassionate, non- judgmental and happens in a dedicated safe space, where experiences are shared in confidence. Empathy, respect and compassion assist in emotional healing.
Following a successful audit I’m delighted to say that this model is now being rolled out Trust wide. My passion is that all of our colleagues deserve access to this kind of care. I recognise that it won’t be easy but I will not be deterred, will you?
For further information please contact me: firstname.lastname@example.org