Saturday, October 09, 2010

Night check at the hospital...

24 September 2010 - It’s 1:00 am. My colleague and I just returned from a surprise visit to the hospital. Three times a month we do spot checks on the wards; periodically we check during the early or late shifts and occasionally during the night and weekend shifts. The reason for these checks is that the Welbodi Partnership set up a performance-based incentive scheme a couple of months ago to monitor nursing care at the hospital with the aim of improving staff performance and ultimately reducing child mortality.

Unfortunately nursing care at Ola During Children’s Hospital has been suboptimal for a few years. This has various reasons, one of which is that for years salaries were low and nurses were forced to engage in work elsewhere, abandoning their posts at the Children’s Hospital. This caused a dramatic fall in nursing standards. Also, high consultation/medication fees meant that patient wards were half-full and patients often could not afford proper treatment and mortality rates were high. This was demoralizing and led to even more nurses not showing up to work. Lack of equipment and supplies worsened the matter.

Thankfully, a few months ago the government increased the salaries substantially, which led to an influx of nursing staff. For some nurses that was enough of a motivator to come to work when scheduled and perform well. Sadly for others, this was not enough of a motivation.

In April 2010 the Free Health Care initiative was launched for patients under-5 years. This led to more patient admissions and a heavier workload for the nurses. For some, this again made it difficult to stay motivated. Welbodi hopes that with the incentive scheme, nurses would be encouraged to provide better nursing care. For some nurses this works, for others, it doesn’t. There are many factors that contribute to this.

The set up of the scheme is to do spot checks using set criteria to monitor the level of care given. The criteria include checking if every bed has a mosquito net, if every patient has a sheet or ‘lappa’ to lie on, if soap and water are available, if all scheduled staff is present, if nurses are in uniform, if equipment is clean and well maintained, if sharps are disposed of properly, if patients vital signs have been checked, if medication has been given accurately, if the handover book is filled out, if the ward is clean and if the nurse’s station is tidy. The criteria are modified as time goes on and are often linked to what the nurses have been taught in a workshop.

Although the scheme sounds simple, it is actually quite complicated. The scheme looks at a ward’s performance, not an individual’s performance. So, if a colleague does not show up to work, the others on the ward are penalized. If a colleague has not documented medication properly, points are deducted for the ward and everyone is affected. It does not sound fair, but the idea behind it is that nursing care should be based on teamwork. When one person falls, everyone falls. Unfortunately we are not able to monitor each nurse’s individual performance because that would be a full time job. So, we look at the performance of the ward as a team. If one shift functions poorly, then the other two shifts will be affected.

Another matter is that the same scoring method is used on every ward, but every ward has a different workload. Obviously 3 nurses in the observation unit or measles ward will be able to handle their work load of 5 – 10 patients much better than 2 nurses in a general ward with 40 – 50 patients or 4 nurses in an ICU with 40 patients. Fortunately Welbodi encourages local ownership and makes sure to engage matron’s office in every check. This allows for Welbodi and matron’s office to discuss issues arising such as the number of nurses posted to each ward and so on. It also empowers matron’s office to enforce rules and the nurse’s code of conduct.

The actual checks are a bit of an adventure, especially the weekend or night checks. Sometimes it makes me a little nervous, not knowing what I will come across. Fortunately tonight was okay. Some things were not so good and definitely need to be improved/changed, but thankfully there were also areas that had improved. Most of the staff was present which was a welcome change from a few months ago. The main issue now is proper administration and documentation of medication but I am convinced that with more training, mentoring and feedback this too can improve. As I said before, it’s not simple. Constant monitoring and evaluation of the program is crucial to make sure the scheme still works towards improving nursing care. It needs to be a scheme that continues to encourage the nurses and not discourage them. Their job is not easy but it is so desperately needed and we need to help them find a way to regain a passion for what it is they do- helping the children in Sierra Leone.


Jean said...

Sandra, I remember making a night check at Mattru, Jong 20+ years ago and discovering the two night watchmen so soundly asleep that it took a lot of effort, to wake them up at 11pm. One finally awoke and came running, screaming, out of his guard shack, straight at me! We woke the entire compound that night.

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