Nurses urged to “Rest, Rehydrate, Refuel” at work
'Give us a break' poster. Via: rcn.org.uk

A “Rest, Rehydrate, Refuel” campaign has been launched by the Royal College of Nursing in the United Kingdom. This 3R’s campaign not only encourages nurses to think about the consequences of not looking after themselves while at work, but also calls on managers to make sure that nurses are taking their breaks, remain hydrated and have access to nutritious food. 

“I recognize that it is a particularly challenging time in terms of workforce shortages. There will be occasions where nursing staff miss their breaks, but when this becomes a regular occurrence it is unsustainable,” said Denise McLaughlin, Chair of the RCN Safety Representatives Committee. “If nursing staff are not enabled to self-care and have a poor working environment, they are more likely to become unwell, burn out or want to leave the job.”

Nurses’ long hours, stressful working conditions and their safety-critical decisions, make breaks a necessity – not a luxury. There is a significant risk of errors related to fatigue and well as accidents which can occur at work or when returning home after a long shift. Labor regulations make provision for rest breaks as well as adequate facilities for breaks, and therefore employers are responsible for ensuring that staff members can and are encouraged to take their breaks. A requirement that all missed breaks must be recorded could point to when this is becoming a regular occurrence so that the issue can be addressed.

There is a significant risk of errors related to fatigue and well as accidents which can occur at work or when returning home after a long shift.

A study of hospital clinical staff, using urine samples and short-term memory tests, found that 45 % of the participants were dehydrated at the end of their shifts that this was associated with significant cognitive impairment. Dehydration thus affects the ability to think and concentrate and is a safety risk for both the nurse and her patients. A survey by the RCN found that 25% of the participants reported that they were not allowed to drink water while working – for reasons including infection control, unprofessionalism, and clutter of cups and glasses. There are a number of ways to manage these objections, such as personal, marked plastic water bottles and creating hydration stations. Nurses can also be reminded to drink more fluids by placing notices in break and rest rooms.

Nutrition is a basic human need and nurses who are on their feet for long periods must make time to refuel. They should also have access to nutritional food that releases energy over an extended period. Managers should consult with their staff about what their needs are, work with experts to provide nutritious foods and provide for areas to refrigerate, store and heat food where staff meals are not provided.

The online resource for the campaign discusses the need for improvements relating to breaks, access to fluids and nutrition for nurses, as well as employers’ legal obligations in this regard. It also contains tips – for managers and nurses themselves – on how to achieve better rest, rehydration and refueling for nurses, as well as helpful case studies where successful improvements had been introduced.

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Frieda Paton is a registered nurse with a Master’s degree in nursing education. Her passion for nursing education, nursing issues and advocacy for the profession were ignited while she worked as an education officer, and later editor, at a national nurses’ association. This passion, together with interest in health and wellness education since her student days, stayed with her throughout her further career as a nurse educator and occupational health nurse. Having reached retirement age, she continues to contribute to the profession as a full-time freelance writer. In the news and feature articles she writes for Nurseslabs, she hopes to inspire nursing students and nurses on the job to reflect on the trends and issues that affect their profession and communities - and play their part in advocacy wherever they find themselves.

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