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Nowhere for nurses to take a break: staff share workplace stories

Posts on Nursing Standard’s Facebook page include reports of work breaks spent in converted store cupboards and cars, and even battles to get a water cooler
Nurse eating on a break in the car

Posts on Nursing Standard’s Facebook page include reports of work breaks spent in converted store cupboards and cars, and even battles to get a water cooler

A converted broom cupboard, a mice-infected staff room, or competing with visitors for a seat at a solitary picnic table – where did you spend your last break?

Nursing Standard readers have been sharing stories of break times spent in hot, cramped spaces, with some having no option but to escape to the relative comfort of their car for a breather and snack.

More than one third of nurses surveyed had no access to a staff room

Earlier this year, Nursing Standard published the results of a survey that found for many, staff

Posts on Nursing Standard’s Facebook page include reports of work breaks spent in converted store cupboards and cars, and even battles to get a water cooler

Picture: iStock

A converted broom cupboard, a mice-infected staff room, or competing with visitors for a seat at a solitary picnic table – where did you spend your last break?

Nursing Standard readers have been sharing stories of break times spent in hot, cramped spaces, with some having no option but to escape to the relative comfort of their car for a breather and snack.

More than one third of nurses surveyed had no access to a staff room

Earlier this year, Nursing Standard published the results of a survey that found for many, staff rooms were non-existent or far too small, particularly with COVID-19 restrictions further reducing capacity.

More than one third (37%) of the 1,200 respondents to our health and well-being at work survey had no access to a staff room or rest area. One third (33%) said they had nowhere to eat, and more than one in five (21%) were not even able to access drinking water.

When the issue was recently revisited on Nursing Standard’s Facebook page, dozens more shared their stories.

Taking a break in a converted store cupboard

One nurse stated that their staff room was so hot and stuffy they chose not to take their breaks there, leaving them to choose between a crowded canteen or a single picnic table at the hospital entrance also used by patients and visitors.

‘The canteen… is the other side of the hospital from my department so by the time you've walked there, paid for food and drink and walked back, you are lucky to have had ten minutes of your 30-minute break – that's if you're quiet enough to get a break in the first place,’ they wrote.

One community nurse recalled how the hospital they previously worked at had a staff room that was a converted store cupboard.

‘Now I’m a community nurse my options are in my car or at my desk – if you get back early enough to get a desk,’ they added.

Cramped conditions or breaks spent in cars

The RCN’s Rest, Rehydrate, Refuel campaign highlights the lack of access to the most basic amenities, such as drinking water and toilets, for nursing staff.

One nurse spoke of a battle to secure a water cooler in their staff room, while another vividly described the cramped conditions in theirs.

‘We can comfortably squeeze four people in ours, as long as you don't mind your co-worker partially sitting on your lap,’ they wrote.

Others resorted to breaks in their own vehicles to avoid less than sanitary staff rooms.

‘My old staff room had bed bugs and mice. How can they expect people to relax? Always stayed in the car,’ one wrote.

No time and no place to take a break

Another nurse highlighted the importance of having somewhere to take a break from the emotional and physical toll of caring.

‘It’s terrible how those looking after the most vulnerable people often don’t have time for a break or a decent place to take a break,’ they posted.

And another resorted to creative methods to find somewhere.

‘One hospital I used to do bank shifts at had such a disgusting break room on the unit that I got the code for the doctor's mess from a junior doctor and go in there instead,’ they wrote.


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