CUH frontline staff 'struggle' to provide safe care to patients

Study identifies fears over staff levels against backdrop of under-resourcing in health sector
CUH frontline staff 'struggle' to provide safe care to patients

Frontline staff at CUH say there is a 'clear appetite for change'. Picture Dan Linehan

Medical staff at Cork University Hospital (CUH) claim they struggle to provide safe care to patients in a challenging work environment, according to the findings of a new study.

A report by researchers from University College Cork identified what they claimed was “a clear appetite for change” among frontline staff regarding patient safety culture.

The study sought to investigate the perception among healthcare workers of the safety culture in a large public acute hospital against a background of under-resourcing in the healthcare system.

Although the report does not identify the hospital in question, it has been established that it involved a survey of staff at CUH.

Researchers, who conducted indepth interviews with doctors, nurses and other healthcare professionals between February and June 2019, said participants described poor working conditions.

Many felt a sense of frustration at poor infrastructure and insufficient staffing levels, as well as a perceived lack of safety culture at an organisational level.

The study said the two main themes that emerged from the interview were “a challenging environment” and “thirst for change”.

Commonly mentioned issues included a lack of necessary equipment, insufficient space to see patients, and bed shortages.

Insufficient staffing levels

However, the most frequent concern raised by CUH staff was insufficient staffing levels, which they believed contributed to many other issues they faced, such as stress and burnout, which directly impacted on patient safety.

Many observed such problems were having an effect on job satisfaction and morale.

CUH staff also complained that they did not receive adequate support from management.

Negative environment

Despite such working conditions, they stated that patients were most affected by the negative hospital environment.

The study, which is published in the Irish Journal of Medical Science, noted that it was somewhat of a surprise that most healthcare staff still had positive perceptions about the safety culture at CUH and believed it had greatly improved in recent years, although others believed a lot of progress was still needed.

One doctor said: “Under these conditions you can’t be proactive in trying to develop safety." 

You’re just trying to fight fires all the time.

Staff surveyed also generally believed that CUH was committed to safety but were concerned that patient care was negatively impacted by a suboptimal working environment.

Staff also acknowledged the importance of teamwork and communication in maintaining patient safety.

The study’s main author, Laura Gleeson, a pharmacist and lecturer in clinical pharmacy at UCC, said many of the issues raised by staff at CUH could be attributed to insufficient or inappropriate expenditure on healthcare.

“This study will have important implications for healthcare in Ireland as it demonstrates that although Irish healthcare professionals experience high levels of work-related stress, they are enthusiastic about and willing to engage in initiatives to improve patient safety,” said Ms Gleeson.

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