Exclusive: Nurses’ revolt brews over Royal Free Hospital’s longer shifts
Nurses tell internal survey they feel 'forced to work harder for less money'
01 December, 2016 — By Tom Foot
Shift patterns are changing at the Royal Free Hospital
A NURSING rebellion is building inside the Royal Free with staff threatening to jump ship to neighbouring hospitals after they were “forced to work harder for less money”.
Hundreds of nurses and midwives at the Hampstead hospital are in uproar after being asked to work longer shifts and more unpaid breaks under bosses’ “harmonisation” programme.
A report marked “private and confidential” – sent to the New Journal by an insider – reveals warnings of mass resignations. The Royal College of Nursing says there is an “obvious threat” to quality of patient care.
“I am outraged by this,” one nurse told the hospital. “We do not want long unpaid breaks and less paid time, working the same unsociable hours which will mean more time away from out families. I am disgusted. You are not at all thinking of your workers, but only trying to save money.”
According to the document, 848 staff have responded to an internal consultation, with the vast majority of responses coming from staff in the acute and emergency departments, including the medical admissions unit.
The Free wants all nurses to work a 12.5 hour shift, with an hour and 45 minutes of unpaid break time, so that it can “correct a variance” between work patterns across its many sites, which now stretch as far as Barnet and Chase Farm, Enfield, since a 2014 merger. The aim is to “deliver a service that is cost effective”, the document says.
It says that nurses at the Whittington, University College London, North Middlesex, Whipps Cross, Northwick Park, Homerton and Royal London hospitals – the nearest neighbours to the Royal Free – generally work 11.5 hour shifts, with paid breaks.
Another response, from a senior staff member at an unnamed unit, said the trust was running the risk of “providing highly-trained staff for other emergency departments to employ on more favourable terms”, adding: “I foresee a large number of staff leaving as a result of putting even more strain on the unit. We already feel undervalued and this is not going to help matters.”
The trust has recently travelled as far as Portugal to find nurses to fill vacancies.
The report says harmonisation is “lowering morale and staff commitment to staying in the trust” and, in the words of one nurse, will “leave me working harder for less money”.
There are several concerns about “patient safety” with warnings that more unattended patients will get fed up with waiting, rip out their tubes and leave.
A response said: “There have already been several incidents where patients have self-extubated during breaks. The proposed ‘extra minutes of break’ could potentially increase this risk.”
The Royal College of Nursing told the New Journal: “Staff need to be allowed to take their breaks in full and should not be expected to just work unpaid through the extended rest periods.
“There is an obvious threat to the quality of patient care if staff who are already stretched just end up working longer hours without proper breaks.”
A Royal Free spokesman said nursing shift patterns were reviewed to ensure working practices across all its hospitals were consistent
“The trust made changes to its proposals following feedback from staff,” he added. “The shift patterns were agreed by nursing unions.
“Consultation feedback revealed there were concerns that some nurses were not able to take breaks they were entitled to. The trust has set up a working group to ensure staff are able to take their designated breaks.”