Nurses urged to report shifts that run into each other

Nurses raise concerns over the way night and day shifts run into each other.
stressed nurse

Nurses have raised concerns over the way night and day shifts run into each other, leading to staff feeling burned-out – or even wanting to leave the profession.

Poor shift patterns and lack of breaks pose a risk to your health Photo: Getty Images

Several nurses raised concerns over shift patterns and their ability to take statutory breaks, during a fringe session at RCN congress in Liverpool.

Risks to patients and nurses

RCN senior employment relations manager Kim Sunley outlined the risks of working long and overnight shifts, including heart problems, driving while tired, compromised patient safety and a possible link to breast cancer.

She suggested nurses should follow similar guidance issued to doctors about having naps of 20 to 40 minutes during night shifts. Ms Sunley said doctors are required to report missed breaks, with hospitals being fines if a certain proportion are missed.

She said the rule should apply to nurses too, especially because they are often the only registered nursing staff on shift and so feel unable to take a break.

No time to recover

Employment lawyer Ferguson Doyle picked up on the theme with a presentation on working time rights. Concerns were expressed about day and night shifts running into each other, and sudden switches from night to day without a 24-hour recovery period.

Nurses were encouraged to report such incidents to RCN Direct.

Mr Doyle told the meeting nurses needed to have the confidence to report problems because their registration would be threatened if a mistake happened through tiredness.

'Burned-out by my shift pattern'

One RCN member, from Oxfordshire, who did not want to be named, said she had burnout because she and others were put on a cycle of late, early, late shifts, meaning 'you get to the fourth day and you don't know if you are coming or going'. She said the situation was compounded by finishing shifts late.

RCN UK safety representative committee chair Denise McLaughlin said the college hopes to launch a campaign on breaks, while a review of its guidance for employers on shifts and break management, titled A Shift in the Right Direction, was likely to include more focus on nurses outside acute settings.

She said poor shift patterns and burnout were contributing to people leaving the profession as they struggled to cope in their home life, and were in danger of making mistakes through exhaustion.

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