Break? What break? Employers must do more to get the basics right for nurses

Access to a proper staff room should not be too much to ask – and considering the complex challenges facing NHS employers, surely it’s a relatively quick fix

Picture: iStock

Stairwells, toilet cubicles, store cupboards, their own cars – nurses are forced to resort to unsuitable places to grab a few minutes’ respite from work.

In fact, ‘Break room? What break room?!’ was a typical response from many nursing staff taking part in our health and well-being at work survey… along with complaints that even finding any time for a break is a never-ending struggle.

No room for nurses to take a break

More than a third of respondents to our poll say they don’t have access to a staff room or rest area.

There are (too) many problems the NHS needs to fix. Yet compared to the seemingly Herculean task of sorting out a decent pay rise and proper staffing, somewhere for staff to eat a sandwich or drink a cup of coffee should should be within easier reach.

No one is asking for spa facilities, but just the ‘luxury’ of a quiet, relaxing space that’s bigger than a broom cupboard. Or as one respondent put it: ‘A time-out zone where I can just head to for five minutes to escape hearing my name over and over again’.

Working conditions are one of many determinants of staff retention

More than 34,000 nurses in England’s NHS left their jobs in 2020-21, our analysis of resignation figures reveals. There are many reasons for these departures but if employers are to fix their retention issues, then a wholesale review of working conditions is needed.

Many nursing staff feel guilty to take time off when sick, worry about having a break (if they’re even offered one) and frustrated about patient care being squeezed.

It may seem trite to worry about rest rooms when there are so many other more pressing issues for the health service, but they are part of the bigger picture and are at the heart of promoting the well-being of the workforce. Ensuring staff can have a break and that there is somewhere comfortable and convenient where they can switch-off is an important way of making them feel valued.

Staff rooms aren’t going to solve systemic workforce issues and poor pay, but they go some way towards a creating a better-rested, more contented and, ultimately, safer workforce.

Flavia Munn is Nursing Standard editor