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New RCN campaign urges nursing staff to take breaks to eat, drink and rest


The Royal College of Nursing has launched a new campaign designed to encourage nursing staff to “rest, rehydrate, refuel” during shifts.

Under the banner of the “3Rs”, it has published a set of resources, including posters and advice with the aim of making staff think about the consequences of not looking after themselves while on shift.

“Missed breaks have become the norm and this is not sustainable”

Kim Sunley

The 3Rs initiative “comes at a time when workplace pressures are forcing many staff to miss breaks”, warned the RCN.

It said the campaign highlighted the safety-critical decisions that nurses had to take and how dehydration, for example, affected concentration and cognitive function. It also emphasised that breaks at work were “a necessity, not a luxury”, highlighted the college.

RCN national officer Kim Sunley said: “Employers and managers need to recognise that in order to create safe and healthy working environments, nurses should be able to have regular breaks and have access to drinking water and healthy food during a shift, be that in the community or on a ward.”

She added: “Missed breaks have become the norm and this is not sustainable.”

The 3Rs materials include workplace posters designed to highlight the importance of taking breaks and to identify signs of dehydration.

A resource pack also explains the evidence base for the campaign, and includes advice on maintaining adequate rest, nutrition and hydration at work.

In addition, it outlines employers’ responsibilities, including those enshrined in health and safety law.

The 3Rs drive has been launched to coincide with Nutrition and Hydration Awareness Week, which runs from 12-18 March.

Last June, the RCN urged trusts and other employers to ensure nurses could keep hydrated, as a matter of patient safety, on what was a particularly hot part of the year.

Meanwhile, as previously reported by Nursing Times, a 2015 study of 88 nurses and doctors at Nottingham University Hospitals NHS Trust found that 36% were dehydrated before they had started their shift.

The college also noted that agenda items for its annual congress this year included a matter for discussion on employers banning staff water bottles in workplace settings.

Alison Upton, from the RCN’s UK safety representatives committee, is due to introduce the discussion at the conference in Belfast in May.

She said: “I’m hoping we’ll hear from members whose organisations have policies and protocols that allow health care staff to have water bottles in clinical areas.”


Readers' comments (8)

  • I don't think an app would make any difference.

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  • Find the nhs properly so that nurses aren't overstretched and we would gladly take out breaks. It's not as though we want to miss them. Telling us to take them makes no difference at all to the fact that we can't.

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  • It doesn't help with staff canteen being shut at 1400 hrs

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  • It's not that nurses need a poster to take their breaks, they can not most of the time as it would leave the wards unsafe. You can enter a shift and you are the only nurse on with 2 hcas when the minimum requirements are 5hcas and 2rmns when you have 17 patients, 3 close observations, 7 standard obs whilst managing admissions, medication rounds, meal times, personal care, de-escalating potentially dangerous situations and an inpossible amount of paperwork. No wonder so many nurses are leaving the register when you do a 14hour shift without eating, then you will be expected to make no errors and know and report what every patient has done for that day, then go home feeling inadequate and worrying that you haven't gave the best patient care that you could have.

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  • Why not ask us to levitate around the ward as well?

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  • "Never give a sucker an even break." (WC Fields)
    "Never let a nurse even take a break." (Me)

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  • I am astonished that nurses put up with the conditions they do. And they do. If every nurse wrote an incident report every time they missed a break and forwarded it to the CEO, cover would be provided. Can't complete it at work? Take it home and do it. No access to email? Put it in the post. No reply to the emails? CC your MP into the next one. THERE ARE OPTIONS but nurses steadfastly refuse to choose them. I am tired of nurses seeing themselves as victims rather than the magnificent people they are. United, nurses could have whatever they wanted, starting with protected breaks.

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  • Nurse 57 I’m unsure how you expect nurses to complete work at home when the paperwork cannot leave the hospital and the other work needs to be done at the workplace. There isn’t a reason to put things in the post when they can email or directly speak to their ward manager, that isn’t an issue. If there is no reply to an email that’s because management are working on other things. It isn’t about these issues, it is the serious understaffing, as anonymous pointed out above when they need 2 qualified and 5 support workers and they are left with only 1 qualified and 2 support workers they have no choice but to stay on the ward. If a patient gets ill very suddenly the qualified nurses are trained to take action immediately, they are required to be on the ward. Support workers are usually highly knowledgable and of course are trained in basic life support however they cannot give any medication, they cannot cannulate and they cannot intubate patients, all requirements if a patient is in respiratory or cardiac arrest. Support workers are usually trained to take observations (blood pressure, heart rate, SpO2, resps and temperature) and can initiate sepsis pathway should that be required however they cannot complete the sepsis pathway. Most patients require observations to be taken at a minimum of 4 hourly on wards, however this can be even more often depending on the acuity of the patient, along with this there is constant toileting and pressure area checks to be performed again at a minimum of 4 hourly, but you will find on wards with elder patients (which is in the majority now) pressure area checks are more often. Considering most of these patients require 2 members of staff to turn them from side to side to check the areas this takes out 2 of the 3 staff members (usually the healthcare’s will do this). So with 17 patients every 4 hours minimum you Need at least 15 minutes with each patient realistically to effectively perform these pressure area checks and observations - not to mention the likelyhood a pad change is required or even a bedding change or clothing change. That is a total of 255 minutes gone which actually amounts to 4hours 15minutes. So by the time they are done it is time to begin again. Without the pressure area checks the staff have no legs to stand on should a patient obtain a pressure sore and the checks aren’t performed in a timely manner, and even though the healthcare’s tend to do this task, the responsibility is pinned on the qualified staff. So alongside the multiple medications, ivs, daily paperwork (which cannot be taken home), dressing changes, constant questions from relatives and patients, communications between occupational health, social care, physical therapy teams, specialist nurses, the doctors and probably at least 2 care homes on each ward, they also have to check the pressure area checks and observations have been completed and that there are no issues. Also, most wards have at least one 1:1 patient who cannot be left alone, many wards have several, in my career so far I have known there to be 10 out of the 28 patients requiring 1:1 support on a ward when there are only 5 staff on the ward in total.

    Would you like to say the above again after that information?

    I am a support worker in an a&e department with experience on majority of the wards at the acute trust I work in. I worked for the nurse bank alone for 18 months in between permanent positions so I have a pretty good view of the different wards and specialisms. The stress is incredible, I see nurses unable to have their breaks constantly. I won’t go into detail with a&e but for a little perspective on that patients should be having observations checks hourly in a&e however some will be left upto 3-4 hours due to the sheer amount of work. On my 12 hour shifts I often walk over 20,000steps (around 14km), along with the issues with breaks - I get paid just over £15,000 basic per year, and now in a&e more and more responsibility is handed over to healthcare support as there simply isn’t time for qualified to always do this.

    Despite all of this I wouldn’t change my job for the world. I do hope to progress but as it stands now I am happy, albeit very tired and sometimes dehydrated and gone without food for upto 8hours on shift.

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