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Longer Nursing Shifts 'Reduce Care Standards'

Lengthier Shifts For Nurses Are Resulting In Poorer Care Standards


Nurses who work longer shifts are less likely to deliver the highest-quality care to patients, according to the results of a new survey.

Researchers at the University of Southampton and the National Nursing Research Unit at King's College London questioned more than 30,000 nurses from various healthcare trusts across Europe to find out how long their shifts last and whether or not this compromises care standards.

It was found that almost one-third of nurses employed at hospitals in England regularly work shifts of 12 hours or more, as longer periods of having one member of staff are seen as attractive and cost-effective to some hospitals as they require fewer potentially complex handovers.

Nurses who worked longer shifts were found to be 30 per cent more likely to report that they were providing a poor quality of care when compared to those who only worked for eight hours at a time.

Leader of the study and chair of health services research at the University of Southampton Professor Peter Griffiths said that the survey findings raise questions about what hospitals could do to improve nurses' shifts, as well as patient care.

He explained: "Moving from three shorter shifts per day to two longer ones has been claimed to save up to 14 per cent of salary costs. But at what cost to the patient?

"This strategy needs to be looked at in much more detail. If nurses perform less effectively and less safely, what's the point?"

In addition, nurses who did longer shifts were 41 per cent more likely to report poor standards of safety, while they also left more necessary tasks incomplete, leading to Professor Griffiths to state lengthier shifts could in fact be "counterproductive".

Those who were working longer hours due to overtime were increasingly likely to point out all of these issues, compared to their counterparts who only did eight-hour periods.

Professor Griffiths added: "The increased flexibility associated with working overtime may not deliver the desired goals for employers."

Expert Opinion
Patient health and safety should always be a top priority within the NHS, which makes it extremely troubling that this survey has found care standards may be slipping due to the length of time nurses are working in one shift. All too often we have seen the consequences for patients when mistakes and errors occur due to staff feeling tired and overstretched.

“A thorough investigation into the findings of this survey should be carried out to identify new measures hospitals may be able to implement to reduce working hours and prevent nursing staff suffering from the fatigue of long working hours, which can put patients in danger. We would welcome moves to increase staff numbers and reduce the length of time individuals are asked to work in a single period, as this will reduce the likelihood of patients receiving sub-standard care from medical staff approaching the end of a long shift.”
Mandy Luckman, Partner

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