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Heatwave looms: nurses warned to stay hydrated as temperatures soar

Health and social care employers are urged to help nurses protect themselves from heat stress and dehydration while on duty as temperatures rise across the UK
Three images of a nurse: first she is wearing a mask, then takes off the mask due to heat and finally drinks bottled water

Health and social care employers are urged to help nurses protect themselves from heat stress and dehydration while on duty as temperatures rise across the UK

Employers have been urged to take steps to protect nurses from heat stress and dehydration while on duty as temperatures soar across the UK.

A heatwave could be declared towards the end of the week in some parts of Southern England and Wales, with temperatures forecast to rise to 34C.

Nurses sharing their experiences on Facebook described how their working conditions could become unbearable in hot weather, with some suggesting rules on mask-wearing should be relaxed.

    Health and social care employers are urged to help nurses protect themselves from heat stress and dehydration while on duty as temperatures rise across the UK

    Three images of a nurse: first she is wearing a mask, then takes off the mask due to heat and finally drinks bottled water
    Image: iStock

    Employers have been urged to take steps to protect nurses from heat stress and dehydration while on duty as temperatures soar across the UK.

    A heatwave could be declared towards the end of the week in some parts of Southern England and Wales, with temperatures forecast to rise to 34C.

    Nurses sharing their experiences on Facebook described how their working conditions could become unbearable in hot weather, with some suggesting rules on mask-wearing should be relaxed.

    ‘Our rooms are ovens in the summer and no opening windows,’ said one.

    ‘A blanket removal of masks would be a good start,’ said another.

    The RCN has called on health and social care employers to ensure nurses are able to keep cool and hydrated.

    Heat stress has been an issue for nurses during the pandemic when wearing PPE

    RCN head of health, safety and well-being Leona Cameron said: ‘As the temperature continues to rise it is vital staff are given the time to take regular breaks to refuel and rehydrate.

    ‘Nursing staff know better than most the importance of drinking plenty of water in hot weather, and employers need to take reasonable steps and adjustments to ensure staff do not become unwell due to the heat.’

    Heat stress has been an issue for nurses during the pandemic when wearing personal protective equipment (PPE) such as masks and gowns.

    Picture of a nurse drinking bottled water
    Picture: iStock

    A Nursing Standard survey that obtained responses from more than 1,400 nurses in 2021 found many struggled to stay hydrated while wearing PPE with around half saying they were unable to drink enough water.

    Last year England’s chief nursing officer Ruth May made it clear that nurses should be able to drink water while on duty following reports some had been banned from doing so.

    Steps employers can take to help keep staff cool include relaxing rules on uniforms. One nurse said staff at her workplace were allowed to wear scrubs when temperatures reached more than 30C. Others – such as NHS Forth Valley – encourage wards to set up ‘hydration stations’ where nurses can easily access individually labelled water bottles.

    How to keep cool and hydrated

    • Be well-hydrated at the start of your shift and ensure you stay hydrated during the shift: warning signs of dehydration include feeling thirsty, dry lips and mouth, feeling dizzy, a headache and dark urine
    • If you are unable to access drinking water speak to your manager or raise it with your union
    • If you are a manager you should provide desk, pedestal or ceiling-mounted fans, and ensure windows can be opened and that staff are shaded from direct sunlight by blinds or reflective film on windows
    • Relax dress codes while ensuring PPE is provided and used where required
    • Allow sufficient breaks to enable staff to cool down and rehydrate, and provide additional facilities such as water coolers
    • Introduce working patterns that limit exposure to hot conditions, such as flexible working, job rotation and workstation rotation

    Sources: RCN – Rest, Rehydrate, Refuel and Health and Safety Executive


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