Kafeelat Adekunle is a community nurse in Southwark, and is campaigning with the Royal College of Nursing in its Staffing for Safe and Effective Care campaign, calling for more nurses across England.
I’ve been a nurse for over 35 years. I trained in Nigeria and worked in Kuwait before moving to London where I’ve been nursing non-stop for 21 years.
I’ve had the privilege of helping patients, and their families, at the best and worst times of their lives. I always wanted to be a nurse. Even as a young girl, all I did was care for people who were sick around me.
Don’t underestimate what nurses do
While nursing is a caring profession, never underestimate what a nurse does. We do more than just hold hands, and wash and dress patients. Nurses are leading from the front now. It’s a hugely varied career and our roles are ever changing.
Nurses don’t only work in hospitals
I am a community matron. That means I don’t work in a hospital. Instead, I lead a team of nurses that works out in the community. I spend my days in and out of people’s houses, often older people who are suffering from long-term conditions like diabetes, heart failure or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. These people need very special support so they can stay out of hospital.
Working in London is special but comes with its own set of challenges
London is very colourful, and you can't help but want to work in it because of its vibrancy. But it's sometime easy to forget that despite London being a big and bustling city with lots going on, it’s also filled with people who live alone and feel lonely. In my role I see this a lot, especially in older people who have lost their partner. Sometimes their deep loneliness can make them more unwell.
Recently, I visited a new patient who lived alone with one of my nursing students. The patient's loneliness was palpable. We spent two hours with the patient, taking the time to chat with them and make sure they were as comfortable as possible. Afterwards, I told the student nurse, 'this is what nurses do. Nurses go the extra mile'. We mix our clinical skills with our unique abilities to support and comfort our patients at their most vulnerable.
I’ve been lucky enough to work in Southwark for several years...
To me, this is one of the very special areas of London. Lots of real-life Londoners who have lived there all their lives. But there are hidden parts of poverty in the borough, and a result, I’ve cared for some very vulnerable people through the years.
Not so long ago I visited a patient who had nothing in their fridge to eat, or money to buy food. Sadly no family were around either. It was heart-breaking. But my mission as a nurse is to respect and treat every patient with dignity whatever their background. I work hard to earn their trust, so they feel safe and secure with me. So, I went and got them some food, enough to keep them going, and brought in social services to make sure the patient got what they needed. You ask any nurse and they will tell you this: we are advocates for our patients. We care.
I once fell over in front of a patient’s house and badly hurt my forehead...
My first thought was for my patient. I called my manager to make sure to check in on my patient and to re-arrange a visit. Then I looked after myself.
We’re trusted but not always respected
Even though nurses are the most trusted profession in the UK by the public, it doesn’t mean we’re the most respected. When you work out in the community, you sometimes find yourself in compromising situations. Angry patients or family members or dogs barking incessantly while you’re treating a patient. I’ll never forget the time someone crashed into my car while I was visiting a patient. Even though I was in my nurse’s uniform, the person swore at me and tried to intimidate me. As a nurse, you are trained to de-escalate situations but sometimes, it can really get to you.
Working in London costs money
London is a great place to work but more and more of my colleagues are telling me that the cost of living in the capital is forcing them out of the city, especially rising travel and accommodation costs. Nurses in London often to have to commute big distances between where they live and work. This is especially challenging when you work in the community. Most, but not all, community nurses will have a car to visit patients. In London, this can add considerable cost because of the congestion charge. While you’ll be reimbursed by your employer, most community nurses pay out of their won pock. For a cash strapped nurse, which there are many of, this can be difficult.
Nursing is hugely rewarding, but today’s environment is not easy for a nurse
I’ve often had student nurses on placement or newly qualified nurses come to me to say they are quitting nursing. This breaks my heart. Because as a career, I’ve never doubted the fact that I love what I do and wouldn’t trade it for anything else. The friendships you make, the opportunities nursing offers, the people you meet and care for. It’s truly something special. I see it as my duty to nursing to help these people and remind them what nursing has to offer when they are considering leave. Im proud to say that in my time I’ve convinced quite a few people to stay.
With 35 years’ experience I can say I’ve seen pretty big changes, some good and some not so good
Nurses in London are more stretched than ever. Across London there are nearly 10,000 unfilled jobs for nurses because the cost of living and working in the capital is too high and is forcing nurses out. At the same time, the public’s demand for care is rising. We are working harder than ever before and with little extra pay. Morale is low.
That’s why I’m campaigning with the Royal College of Nursing in its Staffing for Safe and Effective Care campaign calling for more nurses across England. Despite all this, if I could go back in time, would I still become a nurse? No question. Yes!