Employers advised to plan well before implementing 12-hour shifts

Nurse researcher presenting at Unison conference warns of the dangers of working long shifts

Employers should plan suitable schedules of shift patterns for nurses to reduce fatigue and increase wellbeing, a nurse academic has warned.

Nurse researcher Chiara Dall'Ora. Picture credit: Neil O’Connor

Speaking to health workers at a fringe session at Unison's annual health conference in Liverpool yesterday, University of Southampton nurse researcher Chiara Dall'Ora said employers should consider what settings and roles are suitable for implementing 12-hour shifts as opposed to the standard eight hours.

'Employers should plan schedules of shift patterns to reduce fatigue,' she said. 'They should make sure staff are not given schedules that exceed their ability to cope, particularly people with health conditions or those with long commutes.'

Her literature review of 18 studies into the impacts of working long shifts found that the majority conclude that 12-hour shifts are more likely to result in poor care and clinical errors than 8-hour shifts.

Working such long shifts can also lead to sleep deprivation, burnout, or musculoskeletal problems, resulting in sickness absence or staff resignations, she added.

'This does not mean that 12-hour shifts are evil and should be banned,' she said, recognising that they suit some nurses.

'The question is how they can be implemented and in what circumstances can they work best to minimise fatigue and increase wellbeing.'

Ms Dall'Ora said a sample study of UK nurses revealed that around 35% work 12-hour shifts.

Unison national officer Alan Lofthouse said 12-hour shifts work for some staff but not others, adding: 'We need to inform people about the evidence on shift patterns so they can make the right choices for themselves and what works for them.'

He said staff working longer than 8-hour shifts should be having occupational health assessments and health surveillance.

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