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Rotating shifts better for staff health

Rotating shifts more frequently may reduce nurses’ risks of ill health or social problems associated with working long-term unsocial hours, UK researchers have said.

Regularly working night shifts or outside 7am to 6pm on day shifts has previously been linked to an increased risk of problems such as substance abuse, sleep disturbances, absenteeism, injuries and accidents.

Researchers at Durham University carried out a systematic review of 26 studies on shift workers from around the world including nurses, police officers and manufacturing workers to look at the influence of organisational changes on health and well-being.

Their finding suggested that rotating workers through shift changes more often, such as every three or four days rather than weekly, was better for the health of staff.

Additionally, the authors said that forward-rotating shifts to follow the order of the day seemed to be less damaging.

‘A forward rotation would be a shift in the morning, then the afternoon and then maybe a night shift later. That is less harmful to people’s health than starting at night,’ said lead author Clare Bambra, a geography lecturer.

Giving staff more control over their schedules also resulted in some benefits, the authors said.

The three interventions identified could bring benefits without too many complications for shift organisers and trust budgets, they suggested.

‘These changes didn’t have big costs associated with them and they were not particularly disruptive,’ said Ms Bambra.

The study is due to be published in next month’s edition of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

Previous research has also linked shift work to an increased risk of cancer and a recent study in the Journal of American Physiology concluded that long-term disruption of the circadian rhythm was a causal factor in heart and kidney disease.

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