Nurses’ well-being is the key to workforce crisis

Ensuring staff can take breaks and eat well would encourage more to stay, writes editor Graham Scott

Ensuring staff can take breaks, stay hydrated and eat well during shifts would encourage more to stay

The workforce planning crisis that has afflicted nursing for years could be solved at a stroke if only the government and employers paid greater attention to retention. Too often the focus is on widening entry to the profession, and creating new roles such as nursing associates. But much of this activity would not be necessary if more staff could be persuaded to stay.

A good start would be to allow nurses to take their breaks, eat and drink healthily during their shifts and have access to support such as clinical supervision. However, a survey of Nursing Standard readers suggests that nurses’ employers are failing to look after their staff to such an extent that some are suffering stress, hunger and dehydration on a daily basis.

No time for a break

Almost 2,000 of you responded to our online poll, and the results are as depressing as they are damning. Three in four say they never have time to take a break, and more than half report that they go through an entire shift without even being able to have a drink of water.

Lack of availability of healthy, nutritious food was another common complaint, with 57% saying this is an issue for them.

It is almost a decade since a national review of NHS staff well-being was conducted by occupational health expert Steve Boorman, who found that ten million days a year were being lost to sickness absence.

Plea to employers

Three years ago, NHS England chief executive Simon Stevens issued a plea to health service employers to act, but there has been precious little progress since.

Nurses and other staff deserve better. Surely it’s obvious: investing in their health would save millions in the long run by reducing absences, agency costs and the need to spend a fortune on recruitment initiatives.

Managers should be incentivised to ensure their staff can eat and drink properly, take breaks during their shifts, and have access to additional support at appropriate times to stay healthy, physically and psychologically.

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