Nurses need to focus on their own health even though the odds are stacked against them

A new film aims to help nurses ditch coping mechanisms that are damaging their health

A new film aims to help nurses ditch coping mechanisms that are damaging their health

All too often nurses care for others before caring for themselves. Staffing levels are outrageous and the rate of suicide among nurses is 23% higher than the UK national average. The emotional burden of caring is huge and when added to a lack of work/life balance it can feel too much to care for ourselves.

Nurses on long shifts often do not have access to healthy food. Picture: Alamy

It is unacceptable that nurses do not have sufficient breaks, with many working long shifts without the time to drink a glass of water or have healthy food.

More than three years ago, C3 Collaborating for Health rose to the challenge of exploring nurses’ health, in particular weight issues. It found that one in four nurses are obese, with 95% of all nurses having made previous attempts to lose weight. The factors behind these statistics are complex, and unhealthy behaviours often relate to nurses’ experiences at work. 

Taking care of ourselves

From the outset we were careful to avoid blame and stigma. Instead our focus is that nurses are important and we should care for ourselves. And the 450-plus nurses with obesity we have spoken to agree – it is time we nurses were able to look after ourselves as well as we look after our patients.

C3’s nursing programme, Nursing You, encourages nurses to become healthy lives champions. We do this by supporting nurses in improving their own health, promoting health among their patients, families, colleagues and communities, and advocating for chronic disease prevention locally, nationally and internationally.

Behaviour change

‘We can all talk about death, but fat is our taboo’

The Nursing You programme includes resources such as an interactive pdf created with the RCN, which was then turned into an app through a collaboration with MAXIMUS UK. The Nursing You app is a digital one-to-one behaviour change programme available exclusively to nurses. With support from the Burdett Trust for Nursing, C3 has also created materials that help nurses implement the Nursing You programme at their organisation.

Recently, C3 has collaborated with Human Story Theatre to use an arts-based approach to tackle the sensitive issue of nurses’ health and obesity. As one nurse says, ‘We can all talk about death, but fat is our taboo’.

No Yeah Buts

No Yeah Buts: a film supporting nurses’ health is sponsored by Health Education England and the Burdett Trust for Nursing. Made by nurses for nurses, it explores stress, anxiety and fatigue and the ways in which unhealthy coping mechanisms can be replaced by healthy ones. The aim is to encourage more nurses to sign up for the Nursing You programme and app.

The NHS is facing a severe shortage of nurses and looking for ways to recruit more, but this film shows the need to look after the nurses who are working now so they are not lost to the service.

A scene from No Yeah Buts, a film made by nurses for nurses. Picture: Nice Tree Films

We meet Sally, a 59-year-old community nurse who eats junk food in her car; Josie, a 40-year-old ward sister who drinks wine to help her unwind at the end of a shift; and Rachel, a 32-year-old nursing student who smokes to make her feel more confident and because it suppresses her appetite.

They talk about the pressures they face, including the lack of healthy food options at work, the culture of snacking to boost energy levels, and the unhelpful practice of patients and relatives giving cakes and chocolates as thank you presents.

Nurses’ health: the statistics

  • 29% of nurses in Scotland are obese
  • 1 in 4 of nurses in England are overweight (the same proportion as the general population)

Of 1,905 nurses polled by Nursing Standard:

  • 59% often go through their whole shift without being able to drink water
  • 57% report no access to healthy, nutritious food at work
  • 75% never have time for a break in their working day
  • 83% say their workplace does not offer Schwartz rounds
  • 58% say their manager is unconcerned about their well-being

 Source: Nursing Standard Survey, 2018


C3's ethos is ‘designed by nurses for nurses’. While nurses’ health is an issue for employers and the profession, we need to prioritise our own health.

The good news is that the tide is slowly turning. Nurses are beginning to recognise that the familiar announcement from the flight attendant at the start of a journey – ‘In the event of an emergency, please put on your oxygen mask before assisting others’ – is a message that also applies to them. 

Christine Hancock is founder and director of C3 Collaborating for Health

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