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‘We need to embrace changes and stay ahead of the curve’

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Chesterfield Royal Hospital Foundation Trust is supporting more flexible working for nurses, and will monitor and support those who are interested in working nights, whether permanently or in longer blocks. Allowing staff this flexibility will benefit patients and staff, says Jayne Tague

Recently, I saw an advert on Facebook, posted by an old colleague of mine from my home town of Grimsby. The advert was from the local evening newspaper and was offering night-time contracts for registered nurses in the local district general hospital.

I was interested to read some of the comments this post generated, and the obvious depth of feeling from some of the staff from the local hospital who had previously worked permanent night duty.

Much has been written in the past about the negative health effects of permanent night-working. The general opinion within our own trust in the late 1980s and early 1990s was that shift patterns, including permanent nights, could be seen as divisive and at times isolating – segregating night and day staff.

This led to the unpopular decision at the time to move away from the traditional night and day shifts and towards a more productive rotational shift pattern. There was much resistance to this at the time and, for many, it had a negative impact. Even today, this decision is discussed periodically by those of us who are old enough to remember it.

We have recently been canvassing staff to see what interest there is – should we offer similar contracts again, or at least offer our staff the flexibility of working semi-permanent night shifts should that be a suitable choice for them?

This change in opinion is part of a wider piece of work regarding workforce transformation and how we can be more responsive to the needs of our staff – supporting and retaining staff through balancing work and home life.

We have recently surveyed the opinions of the nursing staff on our medical and surgical inpatient wards, offering a choice of shift patterns, including permanent nights, and the response was not as we expected. With 209 responses to the questionnaire, only 17 staff expressed interest in working permanent nights. So why as an organisation would we want to change our practices regarding shift patterns and how are we prepared to support such staff who feel that this is a way forward for them?

Our trust is committed to supporting more flexible working for our staff as they manage to juggle work, parenting and supporting and caring for elderly or sick relatives, while remaining mindful of the requirements for service delivery. We need to maintain a suitable staffing rota, which offers equity to all staff and monitors any effect on service delivery and staff health that any changes in working patterns may have an impact on.

We plan to monitor the staff who have expressed an interest in either permanent nights or longer blocks of nights to ensure that we support them to maintain their clinical skills and competencies. This staff group will be required to work day shifts periodically throughout the year, participating fully in any ward initiatives as well as attending ward meetings when required.

The appraisal process will track their progress alongside regular catch-ups with the ward matron, and we hope that by allowing staff this flexibility, the ward team – and most importantly the patients – will benefit from a more stable team working in an environment where staff feel supported and valued.

It’s a brave new world in which we live and work. We need to embrace the changes and stay ahead of the curve. 

Jayne Tague is head of nursing/surgical division, Chesterfield Royal Hospital Foundation Trust.

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