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Study to investigate giving night shift staff ‘breaks and powernaps’

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Midwives, nurses and other members of hospital staff look set to benefit from a new study that will pilot giving “breaks and powernaps” to those who experience fatigue and tiredness during night shifts.

Think-tank the Health Foundation has awarded £56,000 to Northumbria University, Newcastle and the Newcastle upon Tyne Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust to investigate new ways of supporting staff fatigue and tiredness during night shifts on the labour wards.

“We hope that by using ideas from the whole team that we can develop a way of managing their night shift fatigue”

Nancy Redfern

The university noted that many night shift staff report that fatigue can impact their ability to do their job and can also affect their physical health and psychological wellbeing.

As a result of the funding, midwives, nurses, and other healthcare staff at the Royal Victoria Infirmary will be working closely with the researchers to explore and test better ways to help people manage their sleep and fatigue during long night shifts.

Under the study, hospital staff will be provided with wearable activity monitors and a specially developed app by Sleep and Fatigue Research, which will help to monitor their sleep wake patterns and predict how their fatigue will affect them over the following 20-hour period.

The researchers will also hold focus groups and interviews, as well as asking staff to complete wellbeing questionnaires in a bid to understand people’s experiences of tiredness during night shifts.

The university state that it is hoped that solutions developed from the study will help to improve hospital teams working at night and enable breaks and powernaps to be built into workers’ schedules.

Dr Nancy Redfern, consultant anaesthetist and project lead at Newcastle Hospitals, said: “The labour ward can be a busy place at night, and however hard we try, tiredness affects everyone’s performance.

“We hope that by using ideas from the whole team of midwives, nurses and doctors that we can develop a way of managing their night shift fatigue in a way that genuinely improves staff wellbeing and morale,” she said. “It will be good for patients and good for the whole team.”

“All our staff need the best sleep possible to care for patients’ day and night”

Kirstie Anderson

Dr Kirstie Anderson, a sleep expert at the Newcastle Hospitals, is also supporting the project. She said: “All our staff need the best sleep possible to care for patients’ day and night. Tiredness affects everyone’s performance and can impact quality of care and patient safety.”

She added: “Our vigilance becomes more variable; we may be less good at logical reasoning, less empathetic and more prone to make errors.”

“Other safety critical industries such as airlines, nuclear and petrochemical companies have formal fatigue risk management strategies – we need them in healthcare as well,” said Dr Anderson.

Funding for the study has been awarded as part of the Health Foundation’s Innovating for Improvement programme, which aims to improve the delivery of health and social care, as well as helping people to manage their own health care by redesigning processes and practices.

The project will run for 15 months from January 2019 and forms part of Northumbria University’s research into integrated health and social care, which explores new, sustainable and effective ways of promoting health and wellbeing across all age groups.

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Readers' comments (2)

  • I totally agree with this study. I also know from personal experience that at 57 years of age it is very difficult to perform at the standard that I did I my thirties and forties when working two or more consecutive nights on a 13 shift rota.

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  • This is great. I only hope that the outcome of this study would be piloted or shared across all NHS hospitals. At the moment some night staff are constantly being bullied by some NHS hospitals for having a rest period even if there is no activity in their departments, especially in surgical or operating theatres .

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