Stress-related mental health problems affect one in five primary care workers. Four in five have trouble sleeping. These are the realities of working in today’s NHS, according to mental health research by Mind, and they form the backdrop to Monologues of a Tired Nurse.

Two nurses step onto the stage, one an optimistic new recruit, Emily, and the other a battle-hardened and exhausted nurse-in-charge called Sally. Among the paraphernalia and body fluids of a normal day, a harrowing story unfolds, the characters’ interconnecting soliloquies showing how the most compassionate individuals can become casualties of an undoable job.

Sally says she came into nursing with a Superman complex, but soon realised there was no time to care. She feels broken – that she isn’t good or worthy, and is angry with people who say nurses are saints.

Emily is hopeful, almost angelic, but struggles to gain professional confidence. Sally’s attempts to toughen her up only seems to make things worse. Emily blames herself for the mistakes she makes under pressure, and sees the coping mechanisms she develops as inevitable.

Monologues is written by Stephanie Silver, who worked for eight years as a paediatric nurse and plays the hardbitten Sally. Her insider’s perspective shows a health service in which shortages have a direct impact on both patients and carers, and where the scrutiny of box-ticking bosses takes priority over the humanity of staff.

It's the issue of putting a brave face on things, and continuing under grinding levels of stress, that this play really addresses. Emily, lost in issues of her past and present, eventually leaves a note for Sally and takes her own life.

Mind’s research shows that one in three healthcare workers would never talk about their stress for fear of being seen as less capable - less able to take the heat of an NHS essentially on fire. Monologues starkly shows us the future we are facing if we are not prepared to care for those who work on the frontline of caring for us. (RM)

Monologues of a Tired Nurse ran at theSpace @ Surgeon's Hall until August 27th -

Mind’s 2016 survey into mental health in caring professions:

NHS staff cuts and reduction in care quality ‘inevitable’, say King’s Fund:

Student bursary cut 'may worsen NHS staff shortages':

Nursing Times article on a nurse's suicide being linked to work pressures: