Nurses are more likely to call in sick following 12-hour shifts than if they have not worked a stint of this length, reveal early findings from a new study.
Academics at the University of Southampton noted the growing popularity of longer working patterns was not only possibly affecting nurses’ wellbeing, but also potentially leading to higher costs for employers who may have to use more expensive agency nurses to cover missed shifts.
“These longer shifts may lead to reduced nurses’ wellbeing and healthcare systems’ loss of productivity”
As a result, those behind the study, called The association of nurses’ shift characteristics and sickness absence, said the routine use of 12-hour working periods should be questioned.
Researchers looked at around 600,000 shifts from 32 acute inpatient general wards at a teaching hospital in England in the three years up to March 2015.
They found that around 83% of the 1,997 nursing staff – comprising 1,312 registered nurses and 685 healthcare assistants – had at least one absence during that time.
The higher the number of 12-hour shifts worked, the greater chance there was of the person being absent in the following week, the study showed.
In particular, if nursing staff had exclusively worked 12-hour shifts in the past seven days, they were 40% more likely to call in sick compared to those who had worked no 12-hour stints.
The likelihood of not coming into work also increased if the person was about to work a 12-hour shift, compared with a more traditional eight-hour work period.
Though when looking at the two staff groups separately, the researchers found nurses were around a third less likely to be absent than HCAs.
Those behind the study told Nursing Times that it was unclear why the trend was occurring but noted that it reflected the higher sickness rates among HCAs, as backed up by NHS statistics.
“The relationship of ≥12 hour shifts and absenteeism suggests that these longer shifts may lead to reduced nurses’ wellbeing and healthcare systems’ loss of productivity and cost-effectiveness,” the paper concluded.
The study, led by research associate and doctoral student Chiara Dall’Ora, is still due to be published in full, but early findings were presented last week at the Royal College of Nursing’s international nursing research conference in Oxford.
The popularity of 12-hour shifts has been increasing in recent years, with growing concerns about the impact on staff and patients.
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A 2015 study, commissioned by the chief nursing officer for England, found 31% of staff nurses on wards reported working 12-hour shifts in 2005 compared with 52% in 2009.
As part of the study, a review of previous research found “some degree of negativity” linked with 12-hour shifts – either for nurses, patients or both.
This included an increased risk of occupational hazards, including needle stick injuries and musculoskeletal disorders.