Proposed shift changes risk patient safety, warn nurses at Scottish health board

‘Exhausted’ nurses at a Scottish health board are putting patient safety at risk, says a campaign group. 

Proposals to change nurses’ shift patterns will put patient and staff safety at risk, allege nurses working at a Scottish health board

NHS Ninewells Tayside, where plans are under way to standardise nursing shifts across all
departments. Picture: Alan Richardson 

Campaign for Tayside, which claims to represent the views of 70 nurses from NHS Tayside, contacted Nursing Standard to highlight its fears.

According to the group, the health board plans to standardise nursing shifts across all departments from 7am-3pm, 1pm-9pm and 8.30pm-7.30am.

The nurses say this leaves only ten hours’ rest between shifts, in contravention of the European Working Time Directive, which mandates a break of at least 11 hours between shifts.

‘Not conducive’ to safety 

The group said opposition to a universal shift pattern was because departments had ‘different challenges at different times’.

‘Workers who finish at 9pm and live in places such as Forfar, Arbroath or Leuchars will not get home until 10pm and will have to wake up at 5am for an early shift. How can this benefit patient safety?

‘The only motivation is to save money on nursing staff wages because of the overspend NHS Tayside has suffered.

‘To have an exhausted workforce who are already burning out deal with these shifts is not conducive to patient safety.

Low morale 

‘Morale among staff is already at an all-time low and I can see more nurses fleeing to NHS Fife, NHS Forth Valley or Grampian.’

NHS Tayside nurse director Gillian Costello said: ‘No decision has been taken on the shape of any new shift patterns. 

‘Through engagement and consultation with all our nursing and midwifery staff, and with our trade unions, we aim to agree the best model to ensure NHS Tayside has the right staff in the right place and at the right time.’

Ms Costello said the board was committed to ensuring ‘safe, quality, patient-centred care and treatment’ for its service users.

‘We are currently looking at how best we can strengthen our nursing and midwifery teams to further meet the needs of people, and to enhance delivery of care for patients,’ she said.

Improving care

‘This includes consideration towards reviewing our shift patterns,’ she said, adding that, historically, nursing staff had worked a variety of shift and break patterns.

She said: ‘Early high-level reviews suggest that by standardising our shifts we can improve the quality and continuity of care for our patients.’

A 2015 study, which looked at data from the RN4Cast survey of 31,627 nurses across 12 european countries, found shifts of 12 hours or more can lead to emotional exhaustion and job dissatisfaction.

But a National Nursing Research Unit study found those working 12-hour shifts reported that they were equally or more satisfied with their working hours than nurses working shorter shifts.

Further information

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