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Significant rise in popularity of longer shifts among nurses

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There has been a significant increase in the percentage of nurses working 12-hour shifts over traditional eight-hour shift, according to results from our latest annual survey.

In our poll of 960 nurses, 37% said they always worked a 12-hour shift, compared with 33% who said they always worked an eight-hour shift.

However, for nurses that worked a mix of shift lengths, the results were slightly more balanced in favour of eight-hour shifts.

For example, 15% of participants said they worked mostly eight hour shifts, with occasional 12 hour shifts, compared to 11% who worked mostly 12-hour shifts, with occasional eight hour shifts.

Only 4% of respondents said they worked roughly an equal number of both eight- and 12-hour shifts.

In contrast, last year’s survey suggested most nurses continued to work an eight-hour shift, despite the growing popularity of extended working periods in recent years.

Of the nearly 750 respondents to our 2014 survey, 51% said they always worked an eight-hour shift, compared with around 22% who always worked a 12-hour shift.

A further 16% said they worked mostly eight hour shifts, with occasional 12-hour shifts thrown in. The opposite was true for 7% who usually worked 12 hours, but with occasional eight hour shifts.

The remaining 4% worked a roughly equal number of both lengths of shift – the same as this year’s result.

In the 2013 survey – the first time we asked about shift lengths was in 2012 – 45% said they always worked an eight-hour shift, compared with around 27% who always worked a 12-hour shift.

Nurses usually say they prefer to work the longer shifts because it gives them more days off – though some accept they could be worse for patient care due to increased fatigue.

The impact of 12 hour shifts on patients and staff was reviewed by NHS England, as part of implementation plans for the chief nursing officer for England’s national nursing strategy.

The independent report investigated the prevalence and impact of 12-hour shifts in nursing, looking at links between shift length and patient outcomes.

Researchers – from the National Nursing Research Unit at King’s College London and Southampton University – reviewed 26 studies carried out from 1982 to 2014 in the UK, US and European Union.

They warned that the level of evidence they found on the impact of different shift lengths was “weak to moderate”. However, in general, most of the studies appeared to show “some degree of negativity” linked with 12-hour shifts – either for nurses, patients or both.

For example, nurses working 12-hour shifts were found to be at increased risk of occupational hazards including needle stick injuries and musculoskeletal disorders.

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Readers' comments (1)

  • 12 hour shift are popular with management because it is easier to ensure cover and with hardly any handover time, costs less in nursing hours. Many nursing staff prefer them and there is greater continuity for the patient during the shift. However for nursing staff who are reaching the later years of their working life they may well become almost intolerable. Being physically active, perhaps on ones feet, for 12 hours or more continuously, not getting proper breaks or refreshment and having to be completely focused throughout is a lot to ask of a thirty year old let alone someone in their late fifties or early sixties. Where are the risk assessments for those who are reaching the last ten years of their working life, are they offered a choice of shift lengths? I wait to hear!

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