Nurses work in a highly stressful
environment which can expose them
to an increased risk of substance
abuse; © P.-G. Meister/Pixelio.de
As many as ten to 20 per cent of nurses and nursing students may have substance abuse and addiction problems, but the key to tackling this difficult issue - and protecting public safety - is support and treatment, not punishment.
Researchers have recommended six key points that could be built into alternative-to-dismissal (ATD) strategies after reviewing the latest research and professional guidance from countries such as the USA, Canada, New Zealand, Australia and the UK.
They believe that ATD programmes provide greater patient safety, as they enable managers to remove nurses from the work environment quickly, unlike traditional disciplinary procedures that can take months, if not years. ATD programmes also provide non-judgemental support and treatment that encourages nurses to seek help and improve their chances of staying in the profession.
"Addiction among nurses has been recognised by professionals in the field for over a hundred years," says lead author Todd Monroe from the Vanderbilt University School of Nursing. While research consistently reports incidence rates of 10 to 15 per cent, some studies suggest that this could be as high as 20 per cent.
Research suggests that ATD programmes help many nurses recover from addiction, reduce the chance of dismissal and return to work under strict monitoring guidelines, with random substance checks, support and meetings with managers and regulators. ATD programmes can also lead to a 75 per cent reduction in practical problems, like obtaining liability health insurance after disciplinary action, and they usually help nurses to re-enter the workforce.
Monroe teamed up with Heidi Kenaga, from The University of Tennessee Health Science Center, to come up with six key points that they believe should be incorporated into ATD programmes developed by regulators, educators and healthcare facilities:
1. Promoting open communication by discussing substance abuse in healthcare and nursing education settings.
2. Encouraging an atmosphere where people feel they can report problems confidentially.
3. Providing information about the signs and symptoms of impairment.
4. Conducting mock interventions to help people feel less fearful or uncomfortable about approaching a colleague or fellow student about suspected chemical dependency.
5. Inviting ATD experts to speak to hospital or school administrators.
6. Participating in scholarly forums about addiction among healthcare providers.
"Providing early intervention and assistance is essential to help nurses and nursing students to recover from an addictive disorder. And providing a confidential, non-punitive atmosphere of support may well be a life-saving step for nurses and those in their care," says Monroe.
REHACARE.de; Source: Wiley-Blackwell