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‘We need better buildings’: GPNs turning cleaning cupboards into clinic rooms

‘We need better buildings’: GPNs turning cleaning cupboards into clinic rooms
La Toya De Freitas

General practice nurses (GPNs) are turning cleaning cupboards into clinic rooms and cannot take on new nursing students because of a lack of space and buildings that are ‘not fit for purpose’, a conference has heard.

Nursing staff at the Royal College of Nursing’s (RCN) annual congress in Wales have today voted to lobby the government and care organisations to ‘take action and maintain their estate appropriately’.

This comes after shocking experiences were shared by nurses about insufficient and unsafe buildings during a ‘matter for discussion’ which was later turned into a voted-on debate.

GPN and infection control lead in Suffolk, Laura Bird, said she had put together ‘countless proposals’ for a new GP surgery building over the past nine years but had been repeatedly told this was not viable due to costs.

‘So, the answer to that in the meantime is we have turned cleaning cupboards into clinic rooms so we can see more patients,’ Ms Bird told the conference.

‘I know what evidence-based care is and I can’t give it because we haven’t got space.’

She added: ‘I’m a GP nurse but I don’t work in a GP surgery… I work in a Tudor building… I work in two houses joined together… I work in a terraced house.

‘I work almost in a GP surgery that was built just after World War II.’

RCN GPN Forum member La Toya De Freitas said ‘most’ GP practice buildings were converted homes and ‘not fit for purpose’.

She said the pandemic had shone a light on issues around a lack of ventilation and windows within GP practices and had meant some procedures had to be stopped.

‘We haven’t got enough room for the clinicians,’ she added, highlighting a lack of appropriate workspaces.

‘We cannot even take on students.’

‘We need better buildings. We need to really put the money into it.’

Ms De Freitas added: ‘We’ve got to ask ourselves… how do we give patients proper care in these buildings that are not fit for purpose?’

As part of the debate, nurses working in the community and in hospital settings also shared shocking experiences of working in poor buildings.

Lucy Hayes, who works on a hospital ward for older people, highlighted the risks of extreme temperatures during the winter and summer months.

She described having to ‘give patients ice baths to stop them dying from heat stroke’ during hot weather.

Meanwhile, Serena Bearpark, Inner North West London RCN member, told of leaks in the hospital where she worked that saw water ‘pouring out’ from the walls and ceiling in an intensive care unit.

And similarly, Natalie Brooks, from the RCN’s Norfolk branch and RCN Eastern member, described a vent falling from the ceiling in an ICU and ‘just missing a patient in a vented bed’.

Ms Brooks said she had seen hospital posters asking nursing staff to ‘report now’ if they saw the ceiling move.

‘They are short staffed and have patients in the corridor and now they have to look out for the ceiling,’ she added.

Following a series of sobering stories, the discussion was moved to a ‘resolution’ in which congress agreed to demand the RCN Council to ‘lobby governments and care organisations to take action and maintain their estate appropriately’.

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