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Nurse fatigue and its effect on patient safety

How many hours do you work a day, and how much sleep do you think you get a night?

According to Dr Ann Rogers, it probably isn't enough. And if that's the case, your patients are at risk. Studies have shown that the likelihood of a clinician making an error can increase by 36 per cent after working 12-hour shifts on consecutive days.

Fatigue can manifest itself in a number of ways. Forgetfulness, poor decision making, slowed reaction times, reduced vigilance or bad moods, and the obvious nodding off.

An internationally renowned expert in sleep deprivation, Rogers is in Australia to present a paper titled 'Staff Nurse Fatigue and Patient Safety' at a public seminar hosted by the Charles Darwin University College of Nursing and Midwifery.

"Everybody needs to be conscious – not having enough sleep affects the nurse's health, it affects patient safety, but it also affects the health of the community," Rogers said. "Because a tired worker driving home can be very dangerous if they're trying to stay awake."

Rogers told Nursing Review about a study that showed a 3.4 per cent probability of an error when a nurse obtained less than six hours sleep at night. In a hospital with 1000 nursing shifts per day, this would translate to a probability of 34 errors per day.

Rogers said nurses need to ensure they get 7–8 hours of sleep a night, and that hospital policies ensure that nurses get their breaks and are allowed to sleep during their breaks if need be.

Nursing Review spoke with Rogers ahead of her talk to discuss nurse fatigue.

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