Addressing the issue of obese nurses
Some 3 years ago the Burdett Trust for Nursing and particularly the grants committee chair Dame Eileen Sills said to C3, a small charity working to prevent chronic disease: Do Something about Obese Nurses!
To say we were not over the moon is an understatement. We had all sorts of other ideas about how we would inspire the 20 million nurses around the world to take our messages that if you could just quit smoking, be more physically active and eat and drink a bit more healthily and a bit less, you’d prevent so much illness and early death, and our hospitals wouldn’t be creaking under the double burden of so many sick patients and so few resources. However, the Burdett Trust for Nursing is a kind and generous funder focused on nursing and we thought: if they’ve identified this as a priority (and it certainly fits with C3’s priorities) then let’s see what we can do.
Developing the Healthy Weight Initiative for Nurses
So, we developed the WIN. Project: Healthy Weight Initiative for Nurses and nervously set off. Some colleagues at the RCN were hostile, fearing it would increase the stigmatising of nurses living with obesity, others said with a grin: I’m SO glad it’s C3 leading this!
Well, we’ve now interviewed hundreds of nurses with obesity, 94% of whom want to lose weight and 90% have tried to lose weight, and three-quarters think it affects their job. We wanted our work to be driven by nurses who are living with obesity, so we conducted surveys and focus groups and held workshops. Ideas came from nurses themselves: some were too complex and expensive and some required difficult changes in the whole organisation.
The birth of NURSING YOU (by nurses, for nurses)
To date, the idea that has worked best is an app. NURSING YOU is a tool designed by nurses for nurses to help nurses change their habits to maintain a healthy weight. The nursing press has given great coverage of our work to date and recent surveys of nurses from the Nursing Standard and Cavell Nurses’ Trust found that: 59% often go through their whole shift without being able to drink water; 57% report no access to healthy, nutritious food at work; 75% never have time for a break in their working day; 58% say their manager is unconcerned about their wellbeing; only 61% nurses said their health was good or very good.
Creative approaches to highlighting nurses’ health
There is no single way to address the complexity of nurses’ own health and we felt there was a need to look at new approaches to highlight the seriousness of this problem, especially as there is so much attention currently being paid to the recruitment and retention of nurses. We were introduced to Human Story Theatre, whose founder trained as a nurse before becoming an actor. Through theatre, this small charity has tackled difficult and controversial topics, including cancer, alcoholism, dementia. C3 asked them to use their skills to help us address the complex issues of nurses’ health. They interviewed many nurses at the RCN Congress and talked to them about their health and any risky behaviour, focusing on smoking, drinking too much alcohol and eating badly. Those interviews led to the three characters in C3’s film No Yeah Buts, launched last month in Soho with Human Story Theatre and Nice Tree Films, which explores their stress, anxiety and fatigue and ways in which unhealthy coping mechanisms can be replaced by healthy ones. The aim is to deliver a clear message to employers and to encourage more nurses to sign up for the NURSING YOU programme, which includes resources for nurses to make changes at their workplace.
Feedback: very positive to the very uncomfortable
Listening to the audience we invited to the launch of the film, the comments varied from the very positive to the very uncomfortable: the reality of nurses’ working lives is not comfortable. C3 hopes the film will prompt leadership’s and management’s recognition of the opportunity to create safe systems of work by promoting the cultural change that makes the job a supportive place to work and one in which nurses feel truly valued for the unique roles they have.
Learn more about C3’s NURSING YOU programme including the app. Questions or comments about the film please email C3 at firstname.lastname@example.org