Nurses ‘falling asleep at the wheel’ after gruelling shifts

Nurses have laid bare the dangers of driving home after long shifts.
Asleep at the wheel

Nurses have laid bare the dangers of driving home after long shifts – with one reporting they had fallen asleep at the wheel.

Photo: Neil O’Connor

A number of nurses and doctors have shared their experiences driving home after gruelling shifts on the Guardian’s Healthcare Network.

One doctor said he now has post-traumatic stress disorder after a crash, while a nurse recalled falling asleep while driving, only waking up when the car ran out of petrol.

‘I wonder how I’m still alive’

‘I fell asleep at the wheel once as a nursing student coming home from a particularly difficult night shift at my placement hospital 30 miles from home,’  the nurse, who remained anonymous, told the Guardian’s Healthcare Network.

‘It could only have been for a minute before I got shaken awake by the car running out of petrol as I’d not been able to afford to fill it up on my way in.

‘Luckily for me one of the kindest policemen I’ve ever met went and bought me a fiver’s worth of petrol and then followed me home to make sure I got there safely.’

A mental health nurse said they found it hard to keep their eyes open, let alone drive home, following a night shift.

‘Sometimes I wonder how I’m still alive,’ they said.

‘The NHS is destroying its staff, sometimes literally by the accidents from driving home so tired. Who looks after NHS employees, because the NHS certainly doesn’t?’

Long commutes put nurses at risk

The comments follow a survey of 1,135 doctors by website, which found two in five of those who replied admitted falling asleep at the wheel after a night shift.

At RCN congress in June, nurses warned soaring rent and house prices meant staff were are risking their health driving long distances home after shifts because they could not afford to live closer to work.

Neil Thompson, from the RCN's UK safety representatives committee, said: ‘Nurses have to move further and further away from work in order to secure affordable housing. 

‘The impact of this is that many people find themselves isolated or in risky positions of being too tired at the end of shift to get home safely.’

Nurses' health 'at risk' by being priced out of housing

I crashed my car after a night shift and now have post-traumatic stress disorder