Expert advice

Workplace: What advice can I give to nurses who are not getting their breaks?

Nurses should insist on taking breaks for their own health and safety as well as that of their patients, says Zeba Arif.

Nurses should insist on taking breaks for their own health and safety as well as that of their patients, says Zeba Arif 


Picture: Charles Milligan 

Not being able to take a break has serious health implications; not drinking enough can lead to chronic dehydration which affects kidney function; and infrequent emptying of the bladder can result in urinary tract infections.

It is essential that breaks are inbuilt as part of the working day. Nurses should insist on them for their own health and safety, as well as that of their patients – lack of food and drink also causes tiredness which impairs judgement.

In the face of insufficient staffing, it may seem heroic to carry on working rather than take a break, but this is not good nursing practice. Even a short amount of respite allows nurses to rest and revive themselves.

Breach of practice

Not taking a break should be considered a serious breach of practice. Nurses who are regularly missing breaks should keep an evidence log and fill out an incident form every time they miss a break.

If the case is that the nurse in charge has no appropriate staff to cover a break, he or she should make the unit coordinator or bleep holder aware of the situation and request cover for the allocated period.

There may be occasions when it is not possible to take a break, but this should be the exception rather than the rule. Senior colleagues have to recognise the seriousness of staff not being able to have a break, and ensure break times are adhered to.

Remind those who seek your advice that a rested nurse is an effective and competent nurse.


About the author

Zeba Arif

Zeba Arif is chair of the RCN forensic nursing forum and was an RCN steward for 23 years

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