• 13 October 2019
  • 3 min read

Lack of proper breaks leaves overworked nurses driving dangerously

  • Nurses news
    Nurses.co.uk editorial team
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Overworked nurses feel they are putting their lives in danger just to ensure patients get the care they need, according to a survey by NursingNotes.

73% of healthcare workers feel unsafe driving after a night shift

A survey of 2,660 healthcare workers sought to examine how safe staff felt driving home from their place of work after a night shift.

The majority of staff (73%) said they felt unsafe driving home.

Over half (58%) said this was because they did not have the time to take their unpaid allocated rest break.

When staff do take breaks, most staff (77%) said their employer did not allow them to sleep during this unpaid period.

The survey was conducted by NursingNotes.

"I feel like I'm drunk"

One respondent said; “When I drive home from a night shift I feel like I am drunk. It sounds odd but I feel dazed and out of it and have slower reactions.”

An overwhelming amount of staff (96%) admitted to feeling stressed or tired during the drive home. One respondent said; “I often worry that I have remembered to do everything for my patients on the drive home and feel for leaving the ward short staffed”.

Around three quarters (76%) of staff said they worked shifts are longer than 11 hours and nearly a third (32%) said their shift finished between 23:00 and 05:00.

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Understaffing forces workers to stay later

Nearly all of all those surveyed (92%) said they were at times forced to leave late because they still had patient care to provide only further compounding tiredness.

Numerous respondents cited chronic understaffing and high patient acuity as the reason for leaving late.

Respondents often described driving home after a night shift as like being on “autopilot” and the majority (80%) admitted to not always remembering how they got home.

One respondent said; “I find myself drifting easily between lanes. A lot of my nights I run with very short staffing levels and get no breaks and I never remember driving home after these. I have almost drifted into cars in other lanes.”

Many admit to near-misses on way home from night-shift

Around two thirds (65%) of respondents admitted to being involved in one or more ‘near-miss’ while driving home after a night shift.

Nearly a quarter (23%) admitted to being involved in at least one minor road traffic collision and twelve staff said they had been hospitalised as a result.

One respondent said; “A colleague of mine died in an RTC after a night shift,” adding “the coroner concluded she fell asleep and went headfirst into a lorry.”

A significant proportion of staff (40%) admitted having fallen asleep at the wheel.

One nurse said; “I was driving back from work on the motorway after a stressful day and had an accident - swerved across the 3 lanes and the hard shoulder, somersaulted onto a trailer”.

Consequences of long-shifts for nurses

Another added, “the rumble strip has woken me up more than once”.

Dr Michael Farquhar, a Consultant in Sleep Medicine at Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust, said: “The NHS provides essential and emergency care 24/7 care but we all too often ignore the consequences on NHS staff themselves of working around the clock.

“Working long shifts, often under considerable pressure, inevitably leads to fatigue, especially when that work is being carried out overnight.

Fatigue not only increases the risk of harm to our patients, but it puts every single member of staff driving home after a long nightshift at significantly increased risk of a road traffic accident – the levels of fatigue commonly seen after a normal NHS nightshift produce a similar effect on driving as if we are at or over the legal drink-drive limit.

Driving tired is like driving drunk … and when we ignore or forget that, we will continue to see NHS staff dying on the roads just trying to get home after a shift.

“A proper focus on regular rest and breaks during shifts, and strategies to reduce risk of harm when driving home after shifts, is essential, and every NHS Chief Executive has a responsibility to their staff and patients to do this.”

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