Campaigners have expressed major concerns about the working conditions of NHS staff after the deaths of two young nurses earlier this month.
Kerrie Browne, 26, and Laurie Jones, 23, lost their lives in road accidents two days apart from one another while driving back home from night shifts this October.
A Nursing Notes survey of 2,660 healthcare workers prompted by the unfortunate deaths examined the road safety of healthcare workers driving home after night shifts.
Alarmingly, 96% of those surveyed reported that they felt ‘stressed’ driving back home from work at night, and 80% said they often could not remember their journey back home. The vast majority (73%) of nurses said they felt unsafe driving home, whilst a shocking 65% admitted to being involved in one or more ‘near-misses’ while driving home, 23% said they had been involved in at least one minor road traffic accident, and 12 of the nurses surveyed said they had been hospitalised as a result.
The study also revealed that 56% of respondents don’t have time to take their allocated breaks, although required by law and 77% said their employer doesn’t allow them to take a nap despite many saying they were regularly forced to work overtime so that they could give patients sufficient care.
40% of the nurses surveyed also admitted to falling asleep at the wheel at least once. Road Safety figures show that tiredness causes almost 20% of road traffic accidents in the UK, and that accidents caused by tiredness have a higher chance than others to cause serious injury or fatality.
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.”
Dr Michael Farquhar, a Consultant in Sleep Medicine at Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust, said:
“Employers have a requirement to provide an uninterrupted break, however, in practice we know that staffing shortages can mean that health and care staff are unable to take breaks, eat or even or drink during their shift.”
Dr Farquhar said: “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 night shift 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.”
These concerns about road safety come after another study found that as a result of serious staff shortages, eight out of ten nurses have had to complete a day’s work without a single drink of water, with more than half saying it happened at least once a week. The same survey also revealed that the majority of nurses completed their shifts without being able to take a break, or even use the toilet.
Nursing Standard editor Flavia Munn said: “It will probably shock those outside of the NHS to hear many nurses go through an entire shift without even a sip of water.
But nurses start work almost expecting to end their day feeling exhausted and dehydrated, having gone without a break.”
Neil Fearn, CEO at Pryers Solicitors commented “Road Safety guidelines are to never drive when feeling tired and take regular rests to ensure safety. It is heart-breaking to hear that our hard-working nurses do not feel like they get this option; which not only risks their own safety, but that of those they are caring for and other road users. As Personal Injury and Medical Negligence specialists, this is a concern on many levels and we urge the government to take steps to ensure safer working conditions for our NHS staff”