Stuart Beddows was the lead nurse at the endoscopy unit of a hospital in Walsall, United Kingdom. He had worked there for fifteen years. He was passionate about his work and dedicated to his patients, His supervisors and colleagues praised his work. But in September, he took his own life, a suicide attributed to the pressures of his job.
“I remember him telling me that he worked a 12 hour shift and had only enough time to drink one cup of coffee - there was no time for food.
“He was also working extra clinics during the evening and at weekends. It was all classed as overtime but he needed to do it...
“Every time you spoke to him there was a story about something that had happened at work. Or something that he had to get off his chest."
“We used to ask him why are you working long hours and told him to go off sick, as did his GP. But he wouldn’t because he said there was no one to do his job.
“He wasn’t supported and the resources weren’t there. We were told he was offered counselling, but he said he needed more than that - he needed help with his workload.
At a hearing on Stuart's death, the director of nursing at the hospital said that the death of a patient may have been what ultimately pushed him to end his life:
She said problems with the new computer system added to his pressures, and said his colleagues were concerned about the hours he was working and the fact he wasn't taking any breaks.
He was also worried about the work needed for an upcoming hospital assessment.
But she said the most important concern appeared to be the death of a young woman, who died on readmission to hospital three days after he had performed and endoscopic procedure on her.
"Her death was nothing to do with the endoscopy, it was entirely different, and staff spent a lot of time talking to him about it."
Beddows' death has already ignited a controversy over how UK hospitals are funded and staffed. But the stresses he encountered are common in the US as well; earlier this year, a survey found that most nurses here say they pull long hours, often do not eat well, feel they lack authority, and are stymied by staffing shortages. In short, nurses are burning out.
What can be done? Are stronger regulations needed? Should nurses have more authority? Is hospital funding the answer? Or is education the key to preparing nurses for the challenges they will encounter in the workplace?
Join the conversation in the comments below. Share your thoughts. Tell us about what you've experienced on the job, and what you think should be done to prevent nurse burnout.