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Call for harder line on flexible hours


Nurse managers should challenge their staff over shift times, a study shared exclusively with Nursing Times has found.

Research by the Institute for Employment Studies said senior nurses often lack the ability to “challenge custom and practice” in relation to requests for more convenient shift patterns, staggered start times and holiday bookings.

Flexible Nursing, commissioned by NHS Professionals, highlights the need for nurse managers to receive better training in order to create more flexible, productive workforces.

It says: “It is evident that the productivity agenda will dominate policy and practice over the next few years, and will place greater focus on the need to contain staff costs… and enable ‘smarter’ frontline working.”

This will involve “a likely roll back” of some flexibilities that are “seen as primarily existing for the employee and which have a real impact on raising overall staff costs and/or impacting negatively on the quality agenda”.

For example, the right to request flexible working and the fact that most nurses are women has led to strong calls in many trusts for term time working, short shifts and staggered start times.

This has created staffing gaps and a greater reliance on temporary staff, the report says.

It states: “Nursing managers who were unsure of the exact demand and pattern of work of their ward or specialty often acceded to the demands for this type of flexible working, without always having a clear understanding of the likely implications for service delivery.”

E-rostering could help trusts get to grips with activity and staffing data, allowing managers to think “more laterally and creatively” about the most efficient work hours and shift patterns.

NHS Professionals workforce strategist Jenny Hargrave said: “Many nurse managers would complain that they get ample clinical training but inadequate training to manage the roster.”

Trusts could invest in workforce planning training, training in rostering, gathering data on activity and seasonal trends and the productive ward series, she said.

The report also suggests organisations could share staff by creating “talent banks” of permanently employed nurses working across a range of care settings.

Ms Hargrave said: “This would reduce the likelihood of short notice, high cost solutions such as expensive agencies.”


Readers' comments (36)

  • Natalie Jewell

    In my experience flexible working cuts both ways. When I was working a 3 day week I was regularly hauled in on my day off to help with service delivery. I did this gladly because the Trust was flexible with me on other days when I needed their support.

    I have recently been encouraged to work term time only. This was suggested in terms of being helpful to me with childcare but was not something I had been seeking. When I said I could not afford to reduce my hours like this just at the moment I was put under pressure and told that the drop in pay is not that much. Now a manager may not save much on their budget by dropping my salary but even a small drop in my salary would make a big difference to me.

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  • "Hauled in" ??? Surely you were asked if you could go in and you went of your own volition??? This type of emotive langauge is a classic example of how nurses can't see the wood for the trees !!!

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  • In my experience in the Community flexible working does not exist!
    Work patterns have been changed to provide 24 hour service, a recent request for a half hour later start time has been rejected - core hours of work have to be met. But...... when workload demands or a patient is ill I have to stay over time and have been told it is my choice to work over therfore no time back is allowed! As a nurse I felt unable to leave an ill 94 year old man with no family awaiting ambulance transfer to Hospital so worked 2 hours over .... my choice or part of being a caring professional nurse?

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  • Flexibility has to work both ways. In my current position my managers try to accomodate any changes I may need so in turn I am willing to work extra shifts as I am able, to help meet targets. I think this is down to good working relationships and mutual respect and consideration. It's not rocket science and I am aware that this rarely happens.

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  • Flexible working in the NHS, Many wards I have been on, you have 2 options start at 7.30am or 12.30 for a day shift and 19.30 for a night shift. How is that flexible ?

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  • Flexible working must be viewed alongside tghe rest of the staff off duty. Where I work we have so many staff on a set off duty that the rest off the staff have to have off duty to fit round them. When our ward manager was challenged it was stated that she was not aware of the impact it has on the staff !?! Due to staff having a flexible working pattern this then leaves the rest of the staff with few options when there is a need to change shift at short notice for family/personal reasons.A better balance has to be found. It can be better to not have a staff meber starty later because you have to stop what you are doing to give a handover when a shift has already been planned.

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  • I totally agree with Natalie, this works both ways.

    On the one hand, trusts/managers can be ridiculously unfair in expecting Nurses to work 24/7 with too little turnaround between shifts. A late then an early then a late then a night shift? Not uncommon. Then add all the unpaid hours, untaken breaks, etc etc. Something has to give. We are not machines. We have to have a life away from work too.

    However on the other side of the coin, there are far too many people demanding 9 - 5 weekdays, no weekends, lots of time off and refusing to do holidays because they have kids etc. There are far too many people who assume because I for example do not have kids and am not married that I will work every single summer/Easter/Christmas/New Year to accomodate these people and work my shifts around them. No, this isn't fair either.

    What is needed is a middle ground. But I do not see this happening any time soon.

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  • Now I am a nurse manager and can see both sides of the agenda. The NHS positively encourages flexible working under the "Improving Working Lives Initiative" how it is very difficult to run a ward to look after the patients 24/7 when all the part-timers want weekends and nights (this means that they still have a reasonable wage), and they also want Christmas and New Year off. This means that the full timers have to work around them. However, saying that my staff are very good at coming in to help out when we are short of staff. I have a lot of pregnant staff on the ward at the moment and this is going to be a headache when they all want to come back on reduced hours (Child care is horrendously expensive, I do sympathise with them over this, but the service requires nurses 24/7).

    If the NHS wants Nurses on the shop floor so to speak it needs to have more nurseries that are open to fit around NHS staff, it is no good closing at 18:30 hrs when the staff don't finish until 21:30.

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  • Flexible hours! What's that???!!!@£$

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  • Sandra Joyce Powell

    wake up nurses wake up and join the 21st century. keep the values and care for your patients

    Sod the old tradition we need to look after our patients now ,they need us. fulfil our obligations to them ,take care of them,

    Nurses of today need support from the management they should work with together sort out the financial problems ,be a team. management and nurse how good is that ,the goal is patient care.

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