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#NURSESHIFT: Should nurses work long days? Is it safe practice?


On 28 March 2012, nurses from around the country came together to discuss the issue of nurses working long days (twelve hours or more) on a regular basis and whether this is safe practice.

The chat started with a predominantly positive stance taken by many nurses towards working long days.

@Ramck001 tweeted: “I prefer long days as you seem to have more time off and get a better view of the patients across the day. #nurseshift

With @mikkywatt agreeing: “Personally prefer it, didn’t apply for a job as I knew it was core shifts (8hrs) I like lots of days off! #nurseshift

And @barbaric_barb adding: #nurseshift I work a combo of long days when I have the available childcare, shortened early shifts when school day restricted and nights”

As the discussion seemed to lean towards long days being more of a positive thing for nurses, @nursingtimesed tweeted: #nurseshift Nurses in UK closest to the top of the global table in the burnout stakes acc to NNRU study pub in NT:

Along with @dgfoord who commented: “Interesting Guidance from the HSE on fatigue, showing increase in accidents in last 3 hours of shifts #nurseshift

With statistics such as the ones mentioned above, it seems important to address the issue of whether long days could potentially do more harm than good. Many student nurses benefit greatly from working long days, as the rest of the week is spent studying and earning.

However, @baxiboy said: #nurseshift I believe that long shift hours are not conducive to student learning. I would say 8 hours on placement each day is ample”

As the discussion progressed, it became clear that many nurses believed members of staff should have the choice as to whether they work long days or shorter ones. Also, if nurses did choose to work long days as it suited them, acceptable break times should be allocated.

@nursefriendly tweeted: “Most students, don’t have a choice about placements once in program here #nurseshift

And @barbaric_barb said: #nurseshift on night shift on your break having a quick nap - don’t disagree to that - can help refresh mind”

@beckyblows added: “With proper management and breaks long days provide continuity of care for the patients and plenty of rest for nurses #nurseshift

All in all, it seemed that many of the nurses that took part in the discussion had at some time or another admitted to long days benefitting them. Whether it be for family commitments or study time: long days can often be beneficial to nurses. Conversely, many nurses also admitted to feeling “too tired to function” on shift, or not being given the choice to work shorter days.

There is no right or wrong answer to working long days as a nurse. Many departments vary in workload - physically and mentally, as do the staff. Equally, it is important to recognize and remember our #tweetofthechat for this week - posted by @thetimethief:

“Lorry drivers and pilots are not allowed to work that long for a reason - SAFETY”.

Thank you all as ever for your fantastic contributions! Also, thank you for adhering to the #NMC’s social networking guidelines and remaining professional online.

Mikey Whitehead @STNNurse_Mikey


Readers' comments (7)

  • 12 hour shifts may be great when younger but now the retirement age has gone up to 67 can you imagine doing a 12 hour shift at that age on a busy ward or unit ??????

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  • Working long days are great if everything is going well. However if you are working on an acute medical ward you never know who is coming through those doors. Nursing patients' who are acutely unwell is difficult enough, but it's incredibly stressful when you are caring for up to 14 patients on a 14hour shift and sometimes snatching a ten minute break when you can!

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  • I have never worked extended shifts but i have worked with those who have and for the last 2 hours of their shift - they are a liability: their concentration and productivity have gone and they are no use to anyone - least of all themselves.

    On the other hand, if they have to travel an hour plus to and from work - best to do longer shifts and have a shorter week; still dangerous of course but perhaps the lesser of two liabilities.

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  • I don't like 12 hour shifts at all, it makes me exhausted physically and mentally, also not fair to patients. Nurse should enjoy both work and life, not only working for money but also enjoying your career. It is very important as a working woman. 12 hour shifts should be changed to shorter shift to make sure every nurse always is fresh on the dutyand provide good quality care to patients.

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  • I currently work 12 hour shifst with travel its more like 14. Its good as you have more time days off and can get loads done when at work.
    However when you are sometimes the only nurse or the ward is busy 12 hours can be very tiredsome and it can be difficult to effectively manage the ward. But overall i dont think the issue is about shift lengths, its more about staff support, morale of staff and working conditions.
    The workload/expectations for nurses are continuing to grow but everything else is decreasing i.e. staffing numbers

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  • Re tweetofthechat-my son is a pilot.The flight to Japan is a 12 hour flight-he has to have a THREE HOUR break. As a 60 year old who has to work for another 2 years,I wish we HAD to have a 3 hour break!!!!!!

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  • Long days do have there advantages to the employer and the patient. However, being of the maturer age, long days do take its toll on my body, with swollen ankles, throbbing feet and then its the negotiation tactics you have to use to get a break.

    I fully understand the need to undertake these long days, but our employer do need to consider the workforce who may not all agree with it.

    There are other things that can become compromised as a result of tiredness and work pressures i.e clinical practice and the quality of care; which has applied to some areas in the UK.

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