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Overworked, no lunch breaks, chronic staff shortages – nurses speak out

Members at RCN congress in Glasgow discuss the culture of long hours and vote to investigate its impact on nurses’ health and well-being

Members at RCN congress in Glasgow discuss the culture of long hours and vote to investigate its impact on nurses’ health and well-being

Staff in the NHS are so stretched that some nurses have ‘never seen a safely staffed department’ and most work beyond their hours on a regular basis.

Nurses have told of their experiences of overworking, not taking lunch breaks and never finishing a shift on time, with one nurse saying how she dreads her next shift after a gruelling shift on a critical care unit.

The comments

Members at RCN congress in Glasgow discuss the culture of long hours and vote to investigate its impact on nurses’ health and well-being

Carmel O’Boyle speaking at RCN congress. Picture: John Houlihan

Staff in the NHS are so stretched that some nurses have ‘never seen a safely staffed department’ and most work beyond their hours on a regular basis.

Nurses have told of their experiences of overworking, not taking lunch breaks and never finishing a shift on time, with one nurse saying how she dreads her next shift after a gruelling shift on a critical care unit.

The comments came as members at RCN congress in Glasgow debated the impact of overworking on staff. They voted in favour of a motion to investigate the impact on the health and well-being of nursing staff of working beyond contracted hours.

Self-care among nurses is vital, says nurse

RCN member for Greater Liverpool Carmel O’Boyle, who tabled the debate, said nurses could not deliver the care they wanted to if they were pushed beyond their limits.

‘Why do we look after everyone else but not ourselves?’ she asked. ‘If we don’t look after the nursing family, we can’t look after anyone else’s family.’

Nurse talks of ‘crying in the shower’ after long shift

Nurse Paige Simmons, who urged members to support the motion, said: ‘Due to the pandemic, we have nurses with post-traumatic stress disorder, we have nurses that have never seen a safely staffed department.’

Critical care nurse of 15 years Silpa Daneesh from the RCN Essex branch said she often came home late from her critical care unit, after working several hours beyond her shift. She said she would ‘cry in the shower’ and dread her next shift.

‘We have been taken for granted for too long,’ she added. ‘We are not angels who do not need to be paid. Do not butter us up with words. Treat us with dignity, treat us as professionals, treat us as human beings, not angels.’

Survey finds chronic overworking and staff shortages

A recent survey by the RCN revealed that nurses around the UK are routinely working thousands of extra hours past their shift every day, with many at breaking point due to overwork.

The survey prompted more than 20,000 responses, revealing widespread chronic staff shortages.

Eight in 10 (83%) of the survey respondents said staffing levels on their last shift were not sufficient to meet the needs of patients. The findings also showed that only a quarter of shifts had the planned number of registered nurses working.

A ‘vicious cycle of overwork’

Tabling the motion for an RCN investigation into overworking, Jim Blair, chair of RCN’s London board and member of the college’s Inner North Central London branch, said nurses were routinely asked to stay longer, or work bank shifts on their days off.

Mr Blair added that it was creating a ‘vicious cycle of overwork, relying on bank and agency staff’.

‘By working unpaid overtime, nurses are enabling this situation. It will only plummet and get worse,’ he said.


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