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Nurses more likely to take sick leave when working 12-hour shift, research reveals

Nurses are more likely to take sickness leave if working 12-hour shift patterns, new research shows.
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Nurses are more likely to take sickness leave if working 12-hour shift patterns, new research shows.

A doctoral study reveals longer shifts may lead to loss of productivity and increased expense for organisations, calling into question the argument that 12-hour shifts can be cost saving.

University of Southampton PhD researcher Chiara Dall'ora analysed data collected from a large acute care general hospital between 2012 and 2015.

She examined the association between characteristics of shift work and sickness absence, analysing 1,312 nurses and 685 healthcare assistants (HCAs) across more than 500,000 shifts.

Ms Dall'ora found nurses working 12-hour shifts in the seven days prior to the sickness spell were 40% more likely to call in sick than nurses working shorter shifts.

Nurses are more likely to take sickness leave if working 12-hour shift patterns, new research shows.


More than 1,000 nurses were analysed in the study, which looked at the link between
shift length and sickness absence. Picture: iStock

A doctoral study reveals longer shifts may lead to loss of productivity and increased expense for organisations, calling into question the argument that 12-hour shifts can be cost saving.

University of Southampton PhD researcher Chiara Dall'ora analysed data collected from a large acute care general hospital between 2012 and 2015.

She examined the association between characteristics of shift work and sickness absence, analysing 1,312 nurses and 685 healthcare assistants (HCAs) across more than 500,000 shifts.

Ms Dall'ora found nurses working 12-hour shifts in the seven days prior to the sickness spell were 40% more likely to call in sick than nurses working shorter shifts.

Opposite effect 

Speaking at the RCN International Nursing Research Conference in Oxford, she said: 'It looks like working 12-hour shifts is not a great idea and is associated with calling in sick. Many nurses prefer them, but what is the cost to patients?'

Healthcare assistants were found to have an even higher likelihood of calling in sick than registered nurses.

Ms Dall'ora said: 'Maybe we think that HCAs are cost-effective or cheaper than nurses, but actually they are much more likely to call in sick, and this could have the opposite effect to saving money.'

She said the consequences of adopting 12-hour shift patterns for nursing staff, such as decreased well-being and the cost and safety of using agency nurses as cover, needed further exploration.

Highest sickness rates

A total of 345 staff members from the study never called in sick.

Nurse sickness rates are among the highest of all NHS staff. Data released by NHS Digital last August showed nursing, midwifery and health visiting staff had an absence rate of 4.6%, compared with medical and dental staff, who had a markedly lower absence rate of 1.2%.

Follow the RCN International Nursing Research Conference on twitter here.


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