RCN publishes new guidelines for staff breaks

NHS managers are reminded of their responsibilities to ensure nursing staff can take breaks in new guidance from the RCN

NHS managers are reminded of their responsibilities to ensure nursing staff can take breaks in new guidance from the RCN

Employers must ensure staff have access to refreshments while on duty
Picture: Neil O'Connor

College guidance follows calls by the Commons health and social committee in January, and by RCN members at their 2017 congress, for employers to ensure staff have ready access to refreshments while on duty.

The guidance is part of the college’s ongoing Healthy Workplace, Healthy You campaign and introduces the concept of the ‘three Rs’ – Rest, Rehydrate, and Refuel.

Legal responsibilities to staff well-being

It also reminds employers of their legal responsibilities to staff well-being, why improvements should be made and provides tips to support their implementation.

RCN senior employment relations officer Kim Sunley said the cross-party health committee was particularly concerned in its inquiry into the nursing workforce about nurses missing rest breaks, and lack of access to food and drink.

'These issues have only become more pressing, as understaffing has left too few nurses covering depleted rotas and trying to do the best they can,' she said.
'In these circumstances it can be difficult to find time for breaks, but they are vital, both for the safety of nurses and their patients.

'Dehydration, for example, affects concentration, which triggers fatigue – essentially it is not just a well-being at work issue but an issue of safety.'

'This guidance spells out the duties employers have to staff, but also provides clear, practical steps employers can take to make sure staff are able to look after themselves properly, and by doing so provide the best care to patients.'

RCN workplace representatives will help to implement improvements.

Practical steps to take

RCN safety representatives committee chair Denise McLaughlin urged managers and safety representatives to read the resource and think about the practical steps they can take to support nurse health and well-being.

Ms McLaughlin, who has written the foreword to the new resource, led a call at last year's RCN Congress urging the college to challenge employers over breaches of European Union working time regulations. It followed stories shared by RCN members of missed breaks and working long shifts without even a drink of water.

Ms McLaughlin said: ‘There will be occasions where nursing staff miss their breaks, but when this becomes a regular occurrence it is unsustainable.

‘It should never be the norm. If nursing staff are not enabled to self-care and have a poor working environment, they are more likely to become unwell, burn out or want to leave the job.'

Further information

Rest, Rehydrate, Refuel 

Congress votes to get tough on missed breaks

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