Working shifts with no access to water, food and breaks is leaving nurses with suicidal thoughts, depression and addiction issues.
The worrying findings demonstrate the extreme toll that current working environments are exacting on the nursing workforce, according to an investigation by the Nursing Standard.
More than half the workforce is regularly going through shifts without key basic human needs being met, according to the findings.
The survey found that 75% never have time for a break during a shift and over half go through a shift without being able to drink any water or have no access to healthy food at their workplace.
Hundreds of comments left by nurses highlighted the same issues again and again.
Nurses blamed working without breaks, excessive workloads, hunger and dehydration, time pressures, understaffing, length of shifts, lack of work-life balance, bad managers and low morale as the biggest culprits affecting their well-being.
One nurse described having a ‘total meltdown, self-harming and suicidal thoughts’ because of work pressures and many others said they were receiving treatment for depression or using alcohol to cope.
‘I haven’t been coping,’ wrote one nurse. ‘But I can’t afford to go off sick or be honest with how much I’m struggling because I don’t believe I’ll actually get support.’
Another nurse described receiving treatment for kidney stones which had occurred due to not being able to drink enough fluids.
Others described a variety of problems in accessing nutritious food from not having enough time to reach cafes or canteens, to hospital shops or vending machines not providing healthy or cost-effective options.
We are so short staffed – I can’t leave the ward.
One nurse said: ‘I can’t leave the ward to go to the canteen, due to a lack of staff.’
Yet another said: ‘The workload is unmanageable most days. They take 30 minutes break off of us every day, but we never get chance to have that break.’
The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) is set to debate the topic of hydration at its annual congress starting this weekend.
Kim Sunley, RCN National Officer, said the survey findings made ‘very hard reading’ and warned that an inability to meet basic human needs appeared to have ‘now become the norm’ in healthcare.
It has become ‘the norm’.
“These comments show the very personal impact that extremely pressurised working environments and lack of management support can have on nursing staff,’ she said.
“These are shocking findings and a very worrying snapshot of what is going on out there in the nursing workforce.”
Ms Sunley added that patient safety was at stake, as well as nurses’ own health, pointing out that being dehydrated could affect cognitive function.
‘It is sad that not taking breaks seems to now have become “the norm”.
‘Obviously in a crisis or emergency, absolutely, you wouldn’t go on your break, but when it becomes the norm that you don’t, that is unsustainable and leads to sick, exhausted and worn out nurses.’