Rest breaks during a shift
You are entitled to a minimum break of 20 minutes when your daily working time is more than six hours. This should:
- be uninterrupted
- be away from your workstation
- be during working time
- not be taken at the start or end of the working day
- not overlap with your daily rest.
The regulations are silent on whether a rest break is paid time but the RCN recommends that the break should be paid.
Check your employment contract and/or policies to find out if you can leave your workplace during a break.
If you are unable to take your breaks due to unsustainable pressures on staffing please see the section above, regarding how to raise concerns.
What if I'm the only registered nurse?
If you are the only registered nurse - and therefore in charge - you must stay on the premises during your shift. You should be paid for this. If you work in a care home, the registering authority will revoke the home's registration if there is no qualified person on the premises.
As a nurse, you are bound by your NMC Code and owe a duty of care to your patients to ensure their safety and manage risk. You are professionally accountable for your acts and omissions and you must be able to justify your decisions.
If current working patterns or unsustainable pressures on staffing means that you cannot take your breaks (for example, where you are the only nurse), these working arrangements need to be reviewed. If you are in this position, contact us for further advice.
Daily rest breaks
You are entitled to a rest period of at least 11 consecutive hours in each 24 hour working period. This time may be taken over two calendar days.
Where this is not possible, you must be given “equivalent compensatory periods of rest” or “appropriate protection”.
12 hour shifts are legal. However, the regulations generally require that there should be a break of 11 consecutive hours between each 12 hour shift.
We believe that no shift should be longer than 12 hours, and that a 12 hour shift may not be appropriate for all nurses. 12 hour shifts should be considered in the context of both patient safety and the physical and psychological demands of shift work.
Weekly rest breaks
As a minimum, you are entitled to an uninterrupted rest period of at least 24 hours in each seven day reference period. This is in addition to an 11 hours daily rest period.
Your employer can average the weekly reference period over 14 days. In a 14 day period, your employer should provide either two uninterrupted rest periods of not less than 24 hours or one uninterrupted rest period of not less than 48 hours.
Where this is not possible, equivalent compensatory rest or appropriate protection must be given to you. On average, all workers should receive 90 hours rest per week. This does not include breaks during working time which are additional.
If you work in the NHS, 27.19 of the handbook states that all employees should receive an uninterrupted weekly rest period of 35 hours (including the eleven hours of daily rest) in each seven day period for which they work for their employer. Where this is not possible they should receive equivalent rest over a 14 day period, either as one 70 hour period or two 35 hour periods.