Editorial

Flexible shift patterns work for everyone

Around one third of nurses in England work 12-hour shifts, and anecdotal evidence suggests that such working arrangements are popular. Many nurses like condensing their working week into a shorter burst of a few days, and save money on their travel costs into the bargain. Managers claim that the reduced number of handovers between shifts is more efficient and safer, given that there are fewer opportunities for messages to be lost in translation.

Around one third of nurses in England work 12-hour shifts, and anecdotal evidence suggests that such working arrangements are popular. Many nurses like condensing their working week into a shorter burst of a few days, and save money on their travel costs into the bargain. Managers claim that the reduced number of handovers between shifts is more efficient and safer, given that there are fewer opportunities for messages to be lost in translation.

However, findings released last week by the National Institute for Health Research suggest that 12-hour shifts do not provide nurses with the job satisfaction they crave. They found that nurses who had reported working 12 hours or more on their previous shift were 50% more likely to be dissatisfied with their job than those who had worked an eight-hour shift.

It would be dangerous to extrapolate these findings and ban 12-hour shifts

Worse, nurses who work 12 hours at a time are more likely than others to experience emotional exhaustion and burnout, and are more likely to want to leave their jobs. All of which prompted researcher Chiara Dall’Ora to point out that other studies have shown that nursing care and patient outcomes are compromised when staff are unhappy at work.

Ms Dall’Ora and her colleagues speculate that many nurses are so tired on finishing their stint at the bedside that they spend their time off work recovering. So their work-life balance is out of kilter.

The research is fascinating and will prompt another debate on the issue, but it would be dangerous to extrapolate these findings and ban 12-hour shifts. Some nurses will be more than capable of maintaining the highest possible standards of care over such a long period, while others may struggle. Managers should be as flexible as possible when setting shift patterns, with patient outcomes always given greater weight than cost or convenience.

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