Nurses are regularly forced to go hungry and thirsty at work because they have no time for a break, according to a survey.
More than half go through shifts without being able to drink water because of “unmanageable” workloads that have left many suffering depression, the poll found.
Three-quarters of the 1,905 nurses surveyed by industry publication Nursing Standard said they never had time for a break in their working day.
The Royal College of Nursing (RCN), which publishes the title, described the findings as “shocking” and warned the health system was failing to meet the “basic human needs” of staff.
Fifty-nine per cent of nurses polled said they often went through shifts without drinking water, while 57 per cent reported having no access to healthy or nutritious food at work.
Nurses also complained of understaffing, long shifts, a lack of work-life balance, bad management, and low morale.
One described having a “total meltdown, self-harming and suicidal thoughts” because of work pressures and many others said they were receiving treatment for depression or using alcohol to cope.
“I haven’t been coping,” wrote one survey respondent. “But I can’t afford to go off sick or be honest with how much I’m struggling because I don’t believe I’ll actually get support.”
Another said they required treatment for kidney stones due to not being able to drink enough fluids.
Others described problems in accessing nutritious food. Some said they had no time to visit on-site cafes and canteens, while others complained hospital shops or vending machines did not offer healthy or cost-effective options.
“I can’t leave the ward to go to the canteen, due to a lack of staff,” one nurse wrote.
Another said: “The workload is unmanageable most days. They take 30 minutes break off of us every day, but we never get chance to have that break.”
RCN national officer Kim Sunley said the survey findings made “very hard reading” and suggested an inability to meet basic human needs had “now become the norm” in healthcare. These comments show the very personal impact that extremely pressurised working environments and lack of management support can have on nursing staff,” she said.
“These are shocking findings and a very worrying snapshot of what is going on out there in the nursing workforce.”
Ms Sunley said patient safety was at stake, as well as nurses’ own health, as dehydration could affect cognitive function.
“Obviously in a crisis or emergency, absolutely, you wouldn’t go on your break, but when it becomes the norm that you don’t, that is unsustainable and leads to sick, exhausted and worn out nurses,” she added.
The RCN is to debate the topic of hydration at its annual congress this weekend.
A spokeswoman for the Department of Health and Social Care said: “The NHS runs on the commitment and dedication of our wonderful nurses and we know they have never worked harder – employers must treat their wellbeing as a top priority.
“We’re supporting this by helping staff to access flexible working and improve work-life balance, whilst as part of the recent deal which will see over one million NHS staff given a pay rise, employers and unions including the Royal College of Nursing committed to working together to improve the health and wellbeing of NHS staff.”