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Readers’ panel: Are employers who insist on unpaid breaks exploiting staff?

Moves to standardise rotas could increase nurses’ working hours as a result of unpaid breaks

Moves to standardise rotas could increase nurses’ working hours as a result of unpaid breaks. When many nurses struggle to take a break at all, is this fair on staff? Nursing Standard readers have their say

Illiustration highlighting the value of paid versus unpaid breaks for nurses, which shows an hourglass in part showing the image of a pound sign
Picture: iStock

Following pressure from unions, Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board in Wales recently shelved controversial plans to change staff rotas and increase the number of unpaid breaks for nursing staff. Similar plans put forward by Mid Cheshire Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust in August for nursing staff at Leighton Hospital are still being discussed with unions.

Daniel Athey is a charge nurse on an acute medical unit in Sheffield 

In my experience, paid breaks are common practice; a 15-minute break mid-morning, at the manager’s discretion and provided the unit is safe. Taking this gesture away from staff – especially when many nurses do not take their breaks, or have them cut short – shows a lack of understanding of hospital work and the flexibility required in an unpredictable workplace. Reducing nurses’ paid working hours will further demoralise an already overstretched workforce.

Grant Byrne is a nursing student in Edinburgh

If nurses always took their breaks, I might view this differently. But evidence shows that nurses working through their breaks has become commonplace in the NHS. It baffles me why any employer would find it appropriate for staff to take unpaid breaks – it adds insult to injury for nurses who are already going without. If they want to retain staff, employers should focus on ensuring staff get their breaks before quibbling over whether to pay for them.

Rachel Kent is a mental health nurse in London

Since I qualified, I have never had a paid break. I don’t know if unpaid breaks are the norm and trusts that implement them are aligning themselves with other organisations, or whether I have just been unfortunate. Nurses are under constant pressure to deliver patient care, and paid breaks could result in a greater expectation to work through them. If the break is unpaid, it could motivate staff to take the allocated time and step off the ward for those vital minutes to prioritise their own well-being.

Liz Charalambous is a staff nurse and PhD student in Nottingham

The issue of nurses taking their breaks – paid or unpaid – highlights serious problems in workplace culture, how we value staff and the policies that influence workplace practice. Employers are struggling to address the perfect storm of increasing demand and staff shortages, and nurses and other healthcare workers are tired and fed up. Goodwill can only stretch so far, and unless we see significant improvements in the pay and working conditions of staff, I fear for the future of the nursing profession.

Readers’ panel members give their views in a personal capacity only

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