Dehydrated nurses in hot weather are a patient safety issue, RCN warns

College says that staff must take breaks and have access to water throughout shifts to avoid mistakes  

College says that staff must take breaks and have access to water throughout shifts to avoid mistakes  

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Patients and relatives are passing out and vomiting in hospitals due to the hot weather, nurses have warned. 

The RCN said the heatwave has seen temperatures on some wards soar to more than 30ºC with nurses themselves reporting feeling ill. 

Nurses have reported feeling exhausted, sick and dizzy as the hot weather raises temperatures in hospitals.

One nurse was admitted to an emergency department with dehydration after working three 12-hours shifts in a row during the heatwave, the college reported.

College members say they are not able to stay properly hydrated as some hospitals do not allow water bottles on wards and there is no time to take breaks due to understaffing. 

Health risk 

RCN professional lead for acute, emergency and critical care Anna Crossley said: ‘Nursing staff should not be expected to work 12-hour shifts in stifling heat with no access to water. Not only is this extremely uncomfortable, it is dangerous, both for them, and the patients they care for. 

‘Dehydration in overheated hospitals is a health risk and can lead to serious conditions - including urinary tract infections and acute kidney injury. By law, patients, relatives and staff must have easy access to water.' 

Ms Crossley added: ‘Dehydration also affects cognition, which could lead to mistakes. Hospital management should allow water bottles on shift, so staff can stay hydrated and make sure they have breaks. This is an issue of patient safety.’

Cooling breaks

RCN national officer Kim Sunley added: 'Nurses are now becoming patients themselves due to the heat.

'We have heard from one member who ended up in A&E suffering from dehydration, after working 12-hour shifts back to back in temperatures exceeding 30C.

'Others have reported exhaustion, sickness and dizziness. This is not acceptable. Good patient care depends on nurses and clinical support assistants being well enough to perform their jobs effectively.'

She added that both patients and nurses must have easy access to water and staff must be able to take regular breaks, preferable somewhere cool.

Rising temperature 

In June, nurses were urged to stay hydrated when the Met office raised its heat-health watch to level 2 for England in response to rising temperatures which were expected to exceed 30ºC. 

Society for Acute Medicine president Nick Scriven said he had witnessed ‘winter levels of activity’ due to patients being admitted with respiratory problems. 

Older people, young children and those with long-term conditions, including heart and lung diseases, are particularly vulnerable to the effects of hot weather. 

Diabetes UK has also warned that people with higher blood glucose levels face an increased risk of dehydration during hot weather, and urged such patients to drink more water.

Meanwhile, the Local Government Association has said social workers are on high alert to check on people having difficulties in the heat, and urged the public to keep an eye on vulnerable or older neighbours, family or friends.

Top tips for staying safe in the heat

  • Look out for others, especially older people, young children and babies and those with underlying health conditions
  • Close curtains in rooms that face the sun to keep indoor spaces cooler and remember it may be cooler outdoors than indoors
  • Drink plenty of water as sugary, alcoholic and caffeinated drinks can make you more dehydrated
  • Try to keep out of the sun between 11am and 3pm
  • Walk in the shade, apply sunscreen and wear a hat if you have to go out in the heat
  • Avoid physical exertion in the hottest parts of the day
  • Wear light, loose fitting cotton clothes
  • Make sure you take water with you if you are travelling
Source: Public Health England


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