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Research suggests nurses are more likely to suffer emotional exhaustion by working 12 hour shifts or longer

11 September 2015

Research carried out by NIHR Collaboration for Leadership in Applied Health Research and Care (CLAHRC) Wessex has found that hospital nurses who work longer than 12 hour shifts have a higher risk of wanting to leave their job, are more dissatisfied and more likely to burnout in terms of emotional exhaustion. (see the full publication)

The study by Chiara Dall’Ora, based at the University of Southampton, examined survey results from a sample of more than 31,000 nurses based across 12 countries in Europe.

It found that shifts lasting longer than 12 hours were common in Poland (99%), Ireland (79%) and in England. In England of the 2568 nurses who responded 32 per cent said they worked day shifts lasting 12 hours or more and 37 per cent worked 12 hours or more on night shift.

Nurses who had worked more than 12 hours on their last shift were 50% more likely to be dissatisfied with their job, than nurses working an 8 hour shifts.

Health managers have increasingly favoured 12 hour nursing shifts believing they improve efficiency by reducing the number of shift handovers. Nurses too were believed to prefer them because they allowed them to compress the working week, leaving more day’s off-work, reducing commuting costs and allowing more flexibility. But these findings raise serious concerns over higher burnout rates which may pose a risk to the quality and safety of patient care.

Researchers write "Twelve-hour shifts are relatively common in some countries in Europe; nonetheless, these longer shifts are associated with more reports of burnout, dissatisfaction with work schedule flexibility, and intention to leave.

..In the context of austerity measures leading to cuts in spending on public services in Europe, it is particularly important for policymakers and managers to have good evidence on which to base decisions on hospital nurse working hours to ensure that the well-being of workers and the quality of care is maintained and nurses retained in practice."

Peter Griffiths, Professor of Health Services Research at the University of Southampton and one of the authors of the report said "This study adds to a growing body of evidence showing that the organisation of shift work in many hospitals may be putting both patients and staff at risk. Longer shifts aren’t necessarily bad in themselves but we need to be mindful of increased risks and make sure the effects are closely monitored and pay close attention to other aspects of shift work, such as ensuring proper breaks within and between shifts The low levels of job satisfaction are a surprise as many nurses still seem to prefer this shift pattern."

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