Nutrition and Hydration Week - It’s for nursing staff too

 Denise McLaughlin 13 Mar 2018

Like many of you I was horrified but sadly not surprised to read the testimonies from the RCN’s survey on safe staffing. Nurses going 14 hours without a drink, holding on for the toilet and colleagues developing kidney stones.

Nursing is like no other profession and there will be situations, such as emergencies, where we have to attend to the needs of patients but sadly, missed breaks and neglecting the need to keep hydrated and eat whilst at work has become the norm. These are basic needs which allow us to function safely and care for our patients and we need to start asserting them.

For nursing staff, being able to take care of ourselves at work is a necessity not a luxury. It is an issue of patient safety and nursing staff wellbeing and safety. Employers and managers are key to facilitating this.

As nurses one of the first models we learn about is Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Yes, we all remember the triangle with physiological needs namely, food, water, warmth and rest at the bottom as our basic needs. We all apply it to our patients and clients, but how about ourselves?

The Nutrition and Hydration Charter is clear that organisations should address the needs of staff as part of a wide approach which, understandably is focussed around patients. More recently Parliament’s Health Select Committee called for senior nurses to take action where staff are not able to take breaks or access facilities to make food and drink

I understand that a lot of this is down to poor staffing levels, but by not asserting our rights at work we are not helping the situation – more of us will get burnt out, take time off sick and make potential errors that impact patient safety. To me this is about organisation cultures and leadership. Some organisations, under the same pressures, seem to get it right and put the needs of nursing staff at the centre of their workplace culture.

During Nutrition and Hydration week, look at our new resources on rest breaks, rehydration and refuelling and:

  • As a member, familiarise yourself with the importance of self-care, how this can impact you and your patients and how your employer should support this. Work as a team to challenge poor practice in terms of hydration and rest breaks and know how to raise concerns.
  • As a manager and employing organisation, be clear about what your legal duties are to staff and put staff care at the centre of patient safety initiatives. Work in partnership with the RCN and follow our tips to create improvements. Let us hear about good practice.

And to fellow RCN safety reps let’s act as the voice of the nursing workforce, and negotiate and influence improvements for the safety of patients and the safety and wellbeing of all our members.

Find out more about Rest, Rehydrate, Refuel and download the resources.

Denise McLaughlin

Denise McLaughlin

Chair, RCN UK Safety Representatives Commitee


Denise McLaughlin is an RCN Safety Representative and Steward at Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Gateshead.

Denise is Chair of the RCN UK Safety Representatives Committee.
Rest, Rehydrate, Refuel logo

Rest, Rehydrate, Refuel

Find resources and read advice about breaks at work, keeping hydrated, having access to nutritional food and employers' responsibilities.
Healthy workplace

Healthy workplace

Healthy workplace supports you either as a health care employer or RCN workplace rep to create healthy working environments.

Page last updated - 09/08/2019