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Trusts ignore nurses' health despite constitution pledge


NHS organisations are ignoring their own nurses’ health and wellbeing by failing to provide proper breaks and neglecting the needs of those who work anti social hours, a survey by Nursing Times has revealed.

Results from the survey of 650 nurses, carried out last week, coincide with a government pledge to save “up to” £555m a year by reducing staff sickness absence in the NHS.Yet 79 per cent of respondents to the survey said their trust did not currently give enough priority to nurse health and well-being.

In January last year the NHS constitution introduced a pledge that the NHS would “provide support and opportunities for staff to maintain their health, well-being and safety”.

This was followed in November by Steve Boorman’s report on health and wellbeing in the NHS, which set out a raft of minimum requirements that trusts should follow on the issue such as offering healthy food, smoking cessation support and promoting exercise.

But over a third of survey respondents said their NHS employer did not provide healthy food choices in its restaurants. Even where they did, respondents said it was “impossible” to get those healthy foods, as nurse shift patterns and irregular or missed breaks meant they could not get to the canteen in time. Many said their lunch consisted of snatched moments to eat snacks brought in from home.

The Boorman report also said the NHS should be an “exemplar employer” to the rest of the UK in ensuring the health and wellbeing of its staff, highlighting the leadership role of managers. But 74 per cent of our survey respondents said they felt their director of nursing was not a good role model for a healthy life style.

The survey results suggest the problem is particularly acute for nurses, as opposed to other NHS staff. While 14 per cent of respondents said their trust did arrange exercise classes or similar activities to help staff keep active, many of those said the timings did not fit in with nurse or midwife shift patterns. A common complaint was that activities were laid on at lunch times or around 5pm – which made them accessible to office staff, but not to nurses.

Five months since the publication of Dr Boorman’s report, the vast majority of our survey respondents said they were not aware of their organisation having a health and well being strategy and only 7 per cent said staff health and well being was included in the induction training of new staff.

NHS lead for the Association of Occupational Health Nurses Kate Kyne insisted the NHS was making steady progress to improve things like access to back care advice and healthier foods but she admitted it was not given sufficient priority at board level.

She said: “It’s been left to occupational health to really champion and take forward. Sometimes that is a real battle, especially when the board has so many other high priorities.”

She added that in many organisations “staff wellbeing is almost secondary to patient care, and if it doesn’t have a good champion, then it is hard”.

The Boorman report said it was “essential” that all NHS trusts put their staff health “at the heart of their work” and appoint a clearly identifiable board level champion for driving home its importance. But although accepted by health secretary Andy Burnham, that recommendation was not set as an explicit requirement in the 2010-11 NHS operating framework.

Ms Kyne said in most organisations responsibility for occupational health services sat beneath the human resources department but it would be helpful if it were moved instead to be part of the director of nursing’s remit. That would help those directly line managing nurses see the value of improved staff wellbeing, she said.

She said that while workplace campaigns such as “cycle to work” had their place, one of the most important changes organisations could make for nursing staff would be to facilitate routine break times.

A spokeswoman for the Department of Health said: “The NHS operating framework for 2010-11 made staff health and wellbeing a priority but tasked each NHS organisation to set its own target and delivery plan. This work is in hand but plans and timescales have not yet been finalised.”


Readers' comments (40)

  • Issues like this and many others including pay and safe Nurse/patient ratio's will always be ignored until Nurses stand up for themselves and go out on strike!

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  • i agree nurses need to stand up for themselves and go out on strike. Somebody will listern to us then?

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  • I do think trusts have a need to provide healthy food but when it comes to exercise , we are all adults and as health care professionals we have a knowledge around exercise . To me we should take resposibility for our own actions , walk to work where possible or find some other inexpensive way of getting our dailly exercise in, I would think all the ward work would account for a large chunk of the required 30 mins per day , Nurses need to stop being victims .

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  • Healthy food whats that.We are not even provided with any food on nights and have to bring our own.On days the nursing staff dont have any lunch as they dont have time as they are so overworked.If you look in the restaurant at lunchtime youll see only office staff and matrons Does that not tell you something.As for offering exercise thats the last thing nurses need after a gruelling shift without food or drink!!!

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  • With the current chronic shortage of niursing staff in many ofour Trusts, taking a proper break is not the norm. We can all bring our own healthy food to work, its cheaper anyway, but I for one rarely have time to eat and digest before going back onto the ward. Our current staffing problems are such that there is talk of nurses not being 'allowed' to leave the ward for their unpaid break as staffing levels are too low. I know for a fact in my own Trust that all issues related to staff well being are on the back burner due to more urgent issues.Thats official. Other health professionals down tools and leave the clinical area for a leisurely break with their colleagues, no question. It is the role of nurses to keep the patients safe regardless of their own well-being. victims or not.

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  • It is important to know that food was not available when on a 12.5hour shift but also water bottles were not allowed on the ward. Which meant if I was too busy to even take my break I did not even get a drink for hours. Surely this has renal implications? It is ironic that we constantly remind patients to drink plenty of water but we cannot drink anything ourselves. Does anybody else have this problem?

    Really are 12.5 hour shifts acceptable? I believe not and there should be a law against it considering we are saving lives, a computer programmer would not be allowed to do these hours in these conditions. Healthy eating is the least of our worries when we can't even have water!!!!

    Nurses need to be heard and I see the only reasonable way of doing this is to strike. We let the goverment and the hiarachy dictate and we do not have a say in our working conditions.

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  • 100% agree about 12.5hr shifts. On night shift it's usually 10hrs in before I get my break (& food)- where does that sit with EWTD re: entitlement to breaks if work more than 4hrs? There's research about effects of night duty on health, and is meant to lead to (amongst other things) higher levels of obesity (due to eating times vs circadian rhythms if I remember right) even if you eat healthily. My organisation has removed sugary drinks from the vending machines for health reasons - but grabbing a diet coke when you've gone hypo from lack of food/drink doesn't really help!

    However when there was the 8 vs 12hr shift debate on here before people seemed pretty split depending on preference/home situation & 12.5hr shifts suited people who liked the extra days off. I read last night that the survey of RCN members this year showed preference for long shifts too. I'd love to see the profile of age/time in profession/time in rotating shifts against which shifts preferred - anecdotally people I know struggle more and more with the long shifts the longer they go on. If anywhere within commuting distance of me worked 7.5hr shifts I'd be running there asap.

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  • I work part time childrens nurse in the community, the health centre I am based in has no food facilities, and neither is there anywhere around to buy any, unless we take our car out of the very overcrowded car part to buy it. Then we can't get back in again. We have one microwave for the whole building and that is so slow we often give up, then where do you eat? If you stay at your desk then you don't get a break due to phone etc, there is one small area upstairs and it is often in use. Talk about healhy staff. The trust has now changed sickness policy in order to save money anyone with over 6 days or 4 episodes, has to see OH and if they are not happy with the persons record then it is passed to HR and written warnings given. It's enough to make you sick. Especially working for the NHS.

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  • I put this to the people.

    Are 12.5 hour shifts healthy?

    Research the effects of this and get back to me. It should be illegal.

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  • No one gives a damn about nurses. It's that old thing of nurses care for people but no one cares about the nurses.

    Our profession is very unique, including hours, stress, workload are to their max.

    We should use our brains strike and realise we are worth a lot more than this and someone needs to recognise it.

    Instead management have no idea what it is like to do that gruelling shift. It's about time somebody listened, even the government has constantly put us down.

    We pay union fees, what are they doing about it? Come on unions back us up and support us and let's get something done.

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