Click on the picture above for a printable PDF
Unfortunately, it’s a fact of life that human beings don’t function as well at night as we do through the day. There’s a wealth of evidence to back this up. Obviously, there’s no getting around the night shift in the NHS, but there are some things we can do to increase productivity, improve the working environment and minimise errors.
- Rely on Each Other
Nowhere is team work more important than on the night shift. Try to create an environment where employees, in particular nurses, are encouraged to voice their opinion if they see something that could be a potential error. By building a system that ensures everybody is responsible for double checking things e.g. medication doses, and therefor sharing the accountability, workers will feel grateful when somebody stops and questions them, rather than feeling affronted.
- Break the Routine
Look into new, innovative research surrounding shift patterns. Studies show that the most valuable, replenishing sleep happens between the hours of 9pm and 3am. Shift models that emphasise this importance are being tested and implemented across the U.S right now.
Look into the benefits of reducing the typical 12 hour shift to 8 hours, ensuring workers have more time for rest during the ideal sleeping hours. Compensate night shift workers in a tangible way – pay these shifts higher, enable them to work less yet receive equal pay. Consider rotating shifts forward (morning – evening – night) to correspond with natural circadian rhythms.
- Take a Break.
The benefits of taking breaks are now understood and well documented. However, the notion of a ‘tea/coffee’ break is becoming outmoded by more effective methods of relaxing. For example, during shifts, napping and exercise are great ways to refresh and increase the release of endorphins. Hospitals should reflect on the paybacks of providing fitness rooms or sleeping quarters for their staff.
- Food for Thought
The fuel that night shift workers put into their body should be seriously considered. For ease and to combat hunger, carb rich foods seems like the best option, however these cause lethargy and sluggishness about an hour after consumption. It’s not ideal to have integral members of your staff relying on vending machines. Offer foods that are high in protein – meats, cheeses and olives. If keeping the cafeteria open all night stretches budgets constraints too much, having cold foods prepared, such as the examples above, during the day and having a cafeteria worker distribute through the night could be a solution to consider.
- Utilise Real-Time Pharmacists.
If your most active clinical units are A&E or the intensive care unit, try appointing a dedicated space for pharmacists where they can review dosages and be of assistance with regards to medication questions. Despite some areas of hospitals having fewer patients at night, the intensity to which patients require attention are usually increased. This could cause a rise in the need to quickly administer medication – having someone readily available for specific advice would be of great value.
- Gifting Goes a Long Way
Finally, recognition of the impact working unsociable hours has on an employee can go a long way to improve the general moral. Try sending regular e-mails with tips and advice on the best way to combat tiredness and cope with a night shift – especially to juniors. Consider night shift packs, including things like ear plugs, sleep masks, de-caffeinated drinks and fruit, which are inexpensive to provide but will been seen as a token of appreciation.