General election 2019: Working in the NHS 'feels sometimes unbearable'

George, Sam, Georgina Image copyright Georgina/BBC

The NHS is one of the key issues in the election campaign as political parties fight to be seen as champions of the health service.

While many assumed this election was going to be all about, yep, you guessed it, Brexit, the future of the NHS has been another top priority for voters.

Hospitals in all parts of the UK are struggling to meet key targets in A&E, cancer care and routine operations.

We've been speaking to staff to find out what it's actually like working in the NHS.

'It feels like it could be tipping into chaos'

Image copyright Georgina

George, 27, works as an A&E nurse.

"I've been in A&E for about four years and the amount of patients we see has increased massively. I have no idea of figures, but I know how it feels. And it feels sometimes unbearable, that you can't provide the care that you really want to.

"It's really frustrating knowing that, at times, you can't and that you just have to give painkillers - whereas you want to take a bit more of a patient's history, to try and work out if there's anything else going on that you can help with.

"And so daily, we're seeing more and more patients with fewer staff, with less available space, with people being kept in emergency departments for longer. We love the job and really want to work hard. But actually sometimes it tips across a point where you think, 'Crumbs, this doesn't feel terribly safe anymore'.

"We keep it safe and work really hard to make sure that it stays that way. Sometimes you sense it. It's like there's this weird feeling that it just doesn't feel right. It feels that it could be tipping into chaos."

George says she has colleagues who don't want to be nurses anymore which is tough to hear. "I'm so passionate about it, you have such satisfaction in little tasks, it would be nice to have the opportunity and for our role to be valued."

You can listen to George on Newsbeat here.

'You turn up and actually don't have that many nurses'

Sam, 33, works as a health visitor.

"I visit families with children under five. So making sure they're growing well, making sure they're developing as expected. I love my job when I can get to do it properly."

She says she'd really like to be able to go out and see families more, but it's not always possible.

"Sometimes it might be I get a phone call from a mum needing some support with breastfeeding. I don't have any space in my diary to go out and visit.

"Parents are expected to come into clinics and our opportunity to visit them in their homes, where we can really see what's going on, is far reduced. Also I go back to when I used to work on a ward, you'd get into your shift and there's a big sign up on the entrance to a ward saying how many nurses should be on duty.

"You turn up and actually you don't have that many nurses. You're covering a shift, you know kids are piling up in A&E, needing a bed, needing to come in for urgent care, and yet you're opening beds without having safe staffing to deliver the care you need."

Figures show that the NHS can't fill positions - there are nearly 100,000 jobs unfilled in England at the moment. That represents one in 12 of all the posts in the health service and would be enough to staff 10 large hospitals.

It includes about 40,000 nurse posts and nearly 10,000 doctor vacancies.

'Sometimes we run out of miracles'

Georgina, 23, works as a nurse in a paediatric high-dependency unit.

She describes being a nurse as a "massive privilege" and says she "loves" her work. But she admits there are challenges.

"I remember there's one night and I'd had a really terrible day and I was sat there writing my notes. I handed over my patients to the night nurses and they started looking after my patients from around 8pm.

"I was there till 10.30pm writing my notes. I remember I was quite junior then, maybe two months in, and tears were just rolling down my face. I was going, 'I want to go home. It's getting dark and I wanna go and get home, and I'm back in tomorrow'."

Georgina says it's "emotionally hard" looking after sick children.

"Yesterday morning, I came to work to find that one of the kids we were looking after for ages had passed away. And I was like, 'Are you kidding me? Like what?' The day before they'd ordered some food and the chips arrived cold - he was really upset and we were like, 'Yes, he's finally eating. This is, this is great news'.

"And then to find out he passed away. We were all in shock. I think I realised just how life changes so quickly. I think it's knowing that we did enough, that there was nothing we could have done differently.

"I think I got particularly teared up when I heard that his mum had bought him loads of Christmas presents recently. Sometimes we run out of miracles."

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