Experts say doctors need power naps during night shifts to avoid accidents on the way home


An expert is calling for fatigue risk management to become the norm in the NHS as half of trainee doctors, consultants and nurses have had an accident or near miss while driving home after a night shift

Doctor working in a hospital
Doctors and nurses who work night shifts should be given a power nap, expert says (archive photo)

According to a study, doctors and nurses should be allowed 20 minutes of power naps during night work to avoid accidents on the way home.

Half of prospective doctors, specialists and nurses have had an accident or near-accident while driving home from a night shift.

One expert is calling for fatigue risk management to become the norm in the NHS, as it is in the airline industry.

But one nursing union fears the necessary breaks for already exhausted nurses won’t take place due to staff shortages.

Research shows that getting behind the wheel after 20 hours of waking hours, when your body needs sleep most, at night or early in the morning, is just as risky as drinking and driving.

Studies have found that being awake for 16 to 18 hours impairs medical professionals’ ability to interact with patients and colleagues, and those who drive home after a 12-hour shift are twice as likely to have an accident as those in Eight-hour shifts.

dr Nancy Redfern says power naps are vital

Experts also discovered that two or more nights of restricted sleep creates a sleep deficit that requires at least two nights of good quality sleep to recover from. dr Nancy Redfern, of Newcastle Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, said napping in the early part of the night meant staff were much less likely to microsleep, switch off for a few seconds and drive home.

She said: “When fatigue sets in, we on the medical and nursing team are less empathetic towards patients and colleagues, alertness becomes more variable and logical thinking is compromised, making it difficult, for example, to calculate the right dose of medication to meet a patient’s needs.

“We find it difficult to think flexibly or store new information, making it difficult to deal with rapidly changing emergency situations. Our spirits deteriorate, so our teamwork suffers. Therefore, everything that makes us and our patients safe is affected.”

According to the expert, it is important that nurses and doctors are given some time to rest so that they can concentrate on their work and go home safely


(Getty Images)

dr Redfern, presenting data at the Euroanaesthetic Congress in Milan, Italy, said there is currently no fatigue risk management in the NHS.

Pat Cullen, from the Royal College of Nursing, said: “Regular breaks that allow caregivers to rest, rehydrate and refuel are a crucial part of vigilance to ensure safe and effective patient care. Unfortunately with tens of thousands of health and social care job vacancies across the UK this is not the reality for the nursing staff who are already exhausted.

“Without a fully funded staffing plan, nursing staff will continue to leave uninterrupted shifts exhausted. Rest and recovery for healthcare workers must be at the heart of patient safety in the workplace decision-making.”

An NHS spokesman said: “We expect trusts to support staff, including ensuring they have a quiet space for breaks when needed, so they can continue to provide quality care.”

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