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Patient care affected by lack of co-ordinated nurse breaks

Nurses unable to use break time to share patient experiences has poor impact on staff

Nurses’ lack of autonomy over when to take breaks is inadvertently affecting patient care and impacting on staff wellbeing, a conference heard today.

National Nursing Unit director Jill Maben shared her experiences and evidence at a seminar aimed at organisational heads to encourage staff wellbeing in health care.

Professor Maben said the increasing move towards 12-hour shifts at NHS hospitals had left nurses unable to come together and appraise and plan patient care.

‘I think we have a generation of nurses who do not know what they have lost,’ she said, at the King’s Fund event in London.

‘Nurses are often contracted to do a 12-hour shift and don’t necessarily have autonomy about when they take their breaks,’ professor Maben said.

‘Actually talking together and sharing patient care stories is really important - that ‘family at work’ is really important.

‘Nurses need time to spend together and process things and plan the nursing care of patients.’

Professor Maben pointed out that in the past, nurses used to take breaks together and process their feelings about distressing or difficult events they had experienced during their time at work.

She said this loss had a ‘really detrimental’ effect on nursing staff, even before taking into account the toll of long 12-hour shifts.

‘Where you get poor staff wellbeing, you get poor patient experience,’ she added.

Professor Maben advocated the use of Schwarz rounds to provide a safe space for staff to discuss the social and emotional challenges of care, but said many nurses cannot get time to attend the rounds.

The King’s Fund head of thought leadership Michael West said it was important that organisations and managers got the right focus on staff health and wellbeing.

‘If we think programmes that encourage people to take exercise and eat well and have relaxation time and so on is the only solution, we are really wrong,’ said professor West.

‘If workload, culture, bullying and harassment is causing people to suffer, then simply presenting leaders with a solution of health and wellbeing programmes is not only potentially insufficient, but might be really misleading to people in power that what they are doing is dealing with the problems.’

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