Background: Children continue to experience unrelieved moderate to severe pain post-operatively despite the evidence to guide practice being readily available. Previous studies have relied on self-report measures; there is a need to establish exactly how nurses manage children's pain in practice.
Objectives: To ascertain how nurses actually manage post-operative pain in children and whether pain management practices adhere to current best practice guidelines.
Design: An observational study was carried out. Structured and unstructured data were collected.
Setting: A children's surgical ward in the English Midlands caring for children from birth to 16 years.
Participants: Registered nurses (n=13) took part in the study.
Methods: Each participant was observed continuously for a period of 5 hours per shift for two to four shifts each. The role of the observer as participant was adopted whereby the researcher could shadow the nurse and act primarily as an observer. Data were collected for 36 shifts (185 hours).
Results: While nurses administered analgesic drugs when a child complained of pain, in most other areas practices did not conform to current recommendations and are in need of improvement. Nurses did not, for example, routinely assess a child's pain, nor use non-drug methods of pain relief on a regular basis.
Conclusions: The sub-optimal pain management practices may be attributable to several factors. The professional culture of nursing and/or ward culture may result in poor pain management practices being perpetuated. Nurses may not have the requisite theoretical knowledge to manage pain effectively. A lack of priority may also be attributed to pain management. These areas need exploring further.