Nurses are divided over the length of shift they prefer to work and the impact of shift patterns on patients, a Nursing Times survey today reveals.
Of the 2,837 nurses and healthcare assistants who responded to our survey, 46% favoured a 12 hour shift while 43% preferred to work eight hours. They were similarly split over which work pattern was better for work/life balance.
However, there were five times as many respondents who believed 12 hour shifts were the worse of the two for patient safety as those who believed eight hour shifts were the worse.
And 22% of respondents noticed they had made more errors during 12 hour shifts compared to 2% who felt the same about a shorter shift.
Almost a quarter of respondents said their trust had increased the number of 12 hour shifts in the past year.
Professor James Buchan, from the School of Health Sciences at Edinburgh’s Queen Margaret University, told Nursing Times this was to be expected as financial pressure meant managers looked to which shift patterns suited “the bottom line”.
Earlier this year the Royal Berkshire Hospital Foundation Trust, which needed to save £21m, estimated it could save up to £500,000 by extending the use of 12 hour shifts.
Royal College of Nursing senior employment relations adviser Kim Sunley told Nursing Times she was aware of many recent reviews of shift patterns.
She said there needed to be safeguards in place for 12 hour shifts to make sure staff got appropriate breaks and finished on time as evidence showed the patient safety risk doubled when nurses worked beyond 12 hours.
She added: “The fundamental issue is about choice. Staff allowed a choice are happier and better at their jobs.”
Just a quarter of respondents always worked eight hour shifts while 37% always worked 12 hours; the remainder worked a mixture.
Many respondents said they preferred the 12 hour shift because it gave them more days off, reducing travel and childcare costs.
Overall 60% of respondents said they felt more physically exhausted after a 12 hour shift but respondents largely felt sickness absence rates were not influenced by shift patterns. Most nurses felt both types of shift carried the same risk of burnout.
Many nurses told Nursing Times that if they worked 8 hour shifts it often meant meant working up to 10 shifts on consecutive days, leading to tiredness.
Jill Maben, director of the national nursing research unit at King’s College London, said 12 hour shifts had been growing in prevalence over the past decade and were originally brought in to improve continuity across a day.
However, she said 12 hour shifts were often worse for continuity across a patient’s hospital stay as nurses working 12 hour shifts only tended to work three days in a row.
She said more research was needed into the impact of each shift pattern on nurses’ ability to do their job safely.
Professor Maben said: “I understand it’s really difficult for directors of nursing to hold the line with finance directors trying to make savings.
“Perhaps moving to 12 hour shifts means you don’t have to lose staff so I can understand how it can look quite seductive in this era of fiscal restraint but my caution is, do you really know what effect this is having?”