The hot weather this summer has left experts asking if records set in 1976 will be smashed in 2018, and the heat is taking its toll – both on patients and staff
We have received multiple reports of staff working in temperatures exceeding 30°C, of nursing staff feeling dizzy and sick after long shifts on baking hot wards. It’s an ongoing problem that’s been brought into sharp relief in the last few weeks – and there are fears that things could get worse. The Environmental Audit Committee recently published a report that stated there could be an additional 7,000 deaths each year by 2040 due to rising temperatures.
Designing sustainable healthcare buildings that can cope with extremes of weather, along with new ways of working that will keep both patients and staff safe is becoming a necessity. Of course, it’s not just healthcare staff working inside who are suffering. Community nurses rushing from appointment to appointment can spend long periods sitting in hot cars, and many are expected to cover their uniform before going into a shop to buy a bottle of water – the last thing you want to do when the temperature is in the mid 30s.
“It can be all too easy to neglect your own primary needs and place yourself at risk”
Whatever health setting you work in, as you put patients first and carry on despite extreme tiredness, it can be all too easy to neglect your own primary needs and place yourself at risk.
However, dehydration affects concentration and cognitive function, and triggers further fatigue – as such, it’s not just a wellbeing at work issue, but a matter of patient and staff safety. A tired and thirsty nurse is potentially a dangerous one.
A study of 88 nurses and doctors at Nottingham University Hospitals Trust Kim Sunley found that 36% of participants were dehydrated before they had started their shift. Using urine samples and short-term memory tests, the study also found that 45% of participants were dehydrated at the end of their shift, and that short term memory tests were significantly impaired in participants who were dehydrated.
Noticing these changes is difficult, especially as you move from patient to patient, and task to task.
The Royal College of Nursing launched a campaign earlier this year to help staff stay hydrated, eat well and get rest breaks at work. The 3Rs – rest, rehydrate, refuel – initiative, launched in March to coincide with Nutrition and Hydration Awareness Week, featured posters so you can check your urine colour and guidance aimed at influencing employers.
Employers have a legal duty to support your health and welfare at work, and your right to proper breaks and access to drinking water is enshrined in law. It seems astonishing that in 2018 we have to remind employers of the need to ensure their nursing staff are able to keep hydrated.
Designing sustainable buildings isn’t going to happen overnight but, many things can be done right now. We are aware of some recent great practice including hydration stations, providing named water bottles and some trusts finding innovative ways to relax uniform policy.
Now is a great time to start spreading the word about the campaign in your place of work.
Please look after yourselves and each other. Be proactive, and make sure you’re not compromising your own health as well as your ability to look after others. Because, after all, who knows how long this heatwave may last?
Kim Sunley is RCN national officer.