Congress votes to get tough on missed breaks

Employers who fail to ensure staff take required shift breaks will be challenged by the RCN, after nurses passed a resolution on violations of working time regulations.

Employers who fail to ensure staff take their shift breaks will be challenged by the RCN, after nurses passed a resolution on violations of working time regulations.

Is the well-being of those delivering care less important than that of patients, Denise McLaughlin asked congress. Picture: John Houlihan

UK safety representatives committee chair Denise McLaughlin proposed the resolution at RCN congress on 17 May, asking ‘is the well-being of those delivering care less important than the well-being of our patients?’.

Ms McLaughlin said the resolution was inspired by the case of Gillian Pick, the respiratory nurse from Scotland who admitted dangerous driving after being on duty for 12 hours with no break or refreshment.

A 2015 RCN survey showed 70% of nurses regularly work extra hours at least once a week and aren’t able to take their breaks.


The debate heard how NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde works with RCN stewards to report breaches of regulations direct to the board, while Guy’s and St Thomas’ created its Hungry, Angry, Late, Tired campaign to make staff aware of the importance of breaks.

Seconding the resolution, Mike Travis from Liverpool and Knowsley branch explained: ‘This is not just about breaks, but is also about how we are rostered,’ noting that some staff are asked regularly to mix day and night shifts in the same week.

Tayside branch member Martin MacGregor said he was concerned that laws protecting the rights of staff will be ‘watered down or repealed’ as a result of Brexit.

Bedfordshire branch member Evaline Ormondi accused employers of being ‘spiteful’ by making breaks only 30 minutes’ duration, split six or seven hours apart.

She said: ‘This is not enough time. You can’t eat your food, run to the bathroom, get back refreshed and still be in the right sense of mind to act.’

Working patterns

Outer North West London branch’s Claire Picton said using incident reporting tools would give managers valuable data about staff working patterns and ‘ensure we don’t make this about us and them’.

Lead steward for North London Central Inner Muhammad Asghar also wanted nurse leaders to be held to account for lack of breaks, and said ‘they should come out of their offices to relieve staff’.

One second-year nursing student told the debate she works 60 hours a week – in part as a paid bank healthcare assistant, and 37 hours unpaid on placement as part of her course.

She urged congress to extend the resolution to students to ensure they are properly rested so ‘the nurses of the future are safe in practice’.

A vote on the resolution was passed overwhelmingly.

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