Chaplains bemoan ‘fire-fighting’ conditions facing hospital patients

Chaplains bemoan ‘fire-fighting’ conditions facing hospital patients

Nurses find it increasingly difficult to maintain a high-level of personal contact with patients given the crowded conditions in many hospitals, a chaplains’ representative has said.

Fr Gerry Byrne of the National Association of Healthcare Chaplains told The Irish Catholic that many nurses and other hospital staff find themselves constantly in fire-fighting mode.

He also warned that many hospital chaplains across the country feel that they are over-stretched as a result of limited resources and are unable to reach all the patients in need of their care and assistance.

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His comments are backed by the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (INMO) with a spokeswoman telling The Irish Catholic this week that the shortage of staff and overcrowding in hospitals has reduced the time nurses can spend with patients.

Fr Byrne, the archbishop’s delegate for hospital chaplains in Dublin  said “in the public sector there’s a lot of pressure and higher numbers [of patients], a lot of it is fire brigade stuff.

“You’re treated, you get everything as you should get it in a very professional way. But that little touch, that extra bit of empathy or time or listening, it has been eroded, and there’s no point in saying it hasn’t,” he said.

The increased demand has also meant that chaplains now have to prioritise the most serious cases, he said, particularly patients in oncology wards and those facing serious surgery or who are terminally-ill.

Working in a private hospital Fr Gerry said he had the “luxury” of being able to spend more time with patients than chaplains in the public sector, but said that “even still there’s pressures there, but you still try your best to find the time that’s needed”.

“It’s down to the pressure of economics. It’s business and the shortage of nurses. There are fewer people doing more and more jobs and that’s the same in here as it is out in the other general hospitals. People are under pressure because in a private hospital unfortunately it’s to do with profit, in the public hospitals it’s to do with cutbacks.”

He added that hospital chaplaincy can be an opportunity to bring lapsed Catholics back to the Church at a time when many people have become “alienated”, and that being sick in hospital can be as good as a retreat as it causes people to ask “the big questions”.

A representative from the INMO said: “Members express that they do their utmost to provide compassionate professional care at all times. However, the shortage of staff together with overcrowded hospitals undoubtedly interfere with and reduce the contact time between the nurse and patient.”

The most recent figures from the INMO show that there are still almost 650 people on trolleys in hospitals around the country.

This comes as Pope Francis spoke to 6,500 representatives of Italy’s National Federation of Professional Nursing Orders about the “medicine of caresses” in the Vatican.

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