September 21, 2023

Long nursing shifts in mental health wards lead to increased patient incidents

Editor's Note

A new study in Journal of Nursing Management, published on September 6, found that when the majority of nursing shifts in mental health and community wards were 12 hours or longer, there was a significant increase in the risk of patient incidents. 

Some highlights of the study include:

  • As the proportion of nursing staff on a ward working 12-plus-hour shifts rose above 70% daily, there was a significant increase in patient incidents of self-harm, threatening behavior, and violence against staff.
  • Researchers looked at records from mental health and community hospitals in Hampshire, England, using incident data matched with the records of nursing staff shift patterns over a 3-year period.
  • In light of the findings, researchers advised nurse managers to avoid implementing 12-plus-hour shifts as a starting point.
  • After their introduction in the late 1970's in the US, 12-plus-hour shifts increased steadily in the UK and several other countries in Europe, but their effect is still being measured. 

In addition to leading to increased patient incidents, researchers also found other negative impacts on nurses’ health and well-being since longer shifts were implemented, including increased sickness, absence, and burnout.


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