Today I took the kids out to catch up with a few work colleagues, the one real positive to being a nurse and having children is that with a workforce predominantly comprising of women there are always a group of you off on maternity leave at the same time. Obviously this causes some severe issues for management when we go off in droves from the same ward, especially in specialist areas where skill mix is usually an ongoing battle. Although we all feel for managers in their day to day struggles (!) we enjoy nothing better than moaning about work issues when we all get together for a coffee! Unfortunately for the majority of us the time comes when we have to return to work and the reality of juggling impossible shift patterns with childcare starts to hit home.
Most hospitals no longer provide on site creches or nurseries – another cut back to NHS funding I presume. This leaves all the shift workers, not only nurses, in a difficult position. A few years back when the government in their infinite wisdom and thoughtfulness pushed NHS trusts into the idea that continuity of care improved the patient experience hospitals up and down the country moved to what we call in the profession long days and long nights, ie the 12 hour shift, or in non-professional terms all f’ing day or night. Many people find this model is an improvement; as for the majority this means working 3 shifts a week, but for those of us looking for childcare it is at best a nightmare and at worse friggin impossible.
As the babies crawl around and my crazy 4 year old dashes off and rounds up his peers in an almost Lord of the Flies type gang, talk turns to who is going back to work, who has cut their hours and the never ending discussion of why we can’t works set shifts. This is the other major issues with organising child care as a nurse, apart from finding someone or somewhere that will take your child from 6.30am – 9pm, your shifts change from week to week so you don’t always need the same days covered; and weekends? Well you can just go and forget about that. Every nurse I have ever known has always asked for a set rota when she returns to work but I can’t recall any manager agreeing to this – they quote the usual line of requiring flexibility within the service. Surely if everyone was asking for set days then doing the rota would be made easier as they would know exactly who was working which days?! Lets not even get started on the JOY that that is the Christmas rota… Next time someone says we need a 24/7 NHS I am going to stick a bauble in their nose for every Christmas I have worked! And childcare, now that really would be a Christmas miracle (mind you so would having the whole of Christmas off….)
Therefore most nurses are left to juggle childcare between family, partners and a couple of set days at nursery or with a childminder – but what happens when like us you don’t have family just down the road? Oh and to make matters worse you are both expected to work changing shift patterns of long days, nights and weekends? Well I can tell you that it is logistical madness and most months result in me rocking in a corner and muttering to myself. Favours are called in, shifts are swapped, sleep is usually severely lacking as one of us works days and one works nights, we often pass each other like ships in the night. Our use of childcare is usually so that one of us can grab a few hours kip before a shift. Now that our eldest child attends preschool it’s even worse, yes we get those precious 15 hours free every week but the times for school are even less helpful than private child care and for the first time ever we have to contend with school holidays! I dread the end of my maternity leave this time, juggling one child was a miracle, juggling two? I can’t even begin to imagine it….