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Survey: Eight hour shifts still the norm... just

Most nurses still work an eight hour shift, despite the growing popularity of extended working periods, our annual survey suggests.

Of the more than 2,000 respondents to our survey, 45% said they always worked an eight hour shift, compared with around 27% who always worked a 12 hour shift.

A further 16% said they worked mostly eight hour shifts, with occasional 12 hour shifts thrown in. The opposite was true for 8% who usually worked 12 hours but with occasional eight hour shifts.

The remaining 4% worked a roughly equal number of both lengths of shift.

The findings add to the long-running debate on the advantages and disadvantages of eight and 12 hour shifts.

Previous research by Nursing Times has suggested slightly more nurses prefer to work the longer shifts – mostly because it gives them more days off – but accept they could be worse for patient care due to increased fatigue.

A Nursing Times survey from July 2012 found 46% of respondents favoured a 12 hour shift, while 43% preferred eight hours.

The impact of 12 hour shifts on patients and staff is currently being reviewed by NHS England, as part of implementation plans for the chief nursing officer for England’s national nursing strategy.

A large US study published last autumn in the journal Health Affairs concluded that nurses working 12 hour shifts were more likely to experience burnout, job dissatisfaction, and complaints from patients dissatisfied with their care.

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Readers' comments (10)

  • I wouldn't want to return to 8 hr shifts now as I like the amount of clear days off, and also would not want to have to work ten days in a row just to get a weekend off sometimes, which used to happen a lot. Yes, the 12 hr shifts are tiring, but so is doing lots of days in a row.

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  • does anyone work more than 12hrs - do those 12 hours include breaks?

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  • We do "longdays" which are 0700-2100, with an hour's break deducted. Not unusual to find your off duty reading: late; longday; early etc, which I personally find shattering. A 12hr shift would be blissful in comparison to a 14hr one!

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  • We do 12.5hrs; 0730hrs-2000hrs or 1930hrs-0800hrs. We are entitled to 10 minutes concessionary coffee break, and 2 half hour meal breaks in the 12.5hr period. Sometimes you get them all, and sometimes you don't when it's very busy. We do 13 of these shifts in a 4 week time frame.

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  • We work 13 12.5 hour shifts per four week period, and get paid for 11.5 hours per shift. However it is rare to get off on time so it is often a 13 hour day at least. Lunch hour, forget it! Consider yourself lucky to grab twenty five minutes for a sandwich. Sickness rates are always high and no surprise really; no-one who feels remotely off colour could possibly face such a shift. However despite everything most staff, especially the younger ones prefer long shifts so I think they are here to stay!

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  • Also some people work bank shifts on top of a full and tiring week, which is paid at same rates (or less). It should be paid at overtime rates, but NHS culture doesn't have that, why pay OT rates, when they can pay people normal rates - as people are still willing to work them (as money is tight).
    Wonder why some staff switch to agency work? they're paid at what OT should be paying.

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  • I won't do extra shifts at the same rate as my rostered ones. I only do them as overtime so if they are desparate to get cover they do pay it. Sometimes I just ask to have the shift back at a convenient time if that's suits.

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  • I hope that shift patterns continue to be flexible to suit both the demands of work and the individual nurse. It is all well and good younger nurses preferring longer shifts, but they will age, and some will also have some health problems, by the time they are 68+.

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  • Could someone tell me where all these 8-hr shift places are? I would love to go back to them, but know nowhere in my region (except 9-5 services) that still work them.

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  • These 11.5hour shifts are not conducive to effective safe nursing care in a busy orthopaedic ward. Staff that do the short shifts are more productive and flexible. Those that do the long shifts seem to lack real commitment, are always changing their shifts as their private life is more important - work is merely a hobby!

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