Nurses worked mammoth 15-hour shifts in the critical care unit at Stoke-on-Trent’s main hospital at the height of the coronavirus crisis – in a desperate attempt to make up their hours.
Rota changes at the start of the pandemic saw the shift patterns of doctors and nurses at the Royal Stoke University Hospital aligned to provide continuity.
Each shift was also shortened because staff were having to wear personal protective equipment (PPE).
But that resulted in some nurses working marathon shifts amid fears they needed to make up their contracted hours.
Now the issue has been resolved after the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) was contacted by its members.
RCN official Rob Irving said: “When Covid-19 first hit there was expected to be a surge and people were worried that the intensive care unit would be overwhelmed.
“The management took a decision to change shift patterns to align with doctors, so everyone was doing the same shift. It meant a number of staff were working under their contracted hours.”
An email was initially sent out reassuring staff that they would not be required to work the extra hours they owed. But staff were then told to disregard that email and started working the marathon shifts.
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Mr Irving added: “As soon as we were contacted by our members, which was a couple of days later, we told them not to pay their hours back while the dispute was being resolved.
“However, some staff did decide to pay back those hours. For some staff the only way to do that was to work a double shift, which was 15 hours.
“Both the RCN and the chief nurse put a stop to it and said that it was not acceptable. Some staff may have worked 15 hours, but they were not forced to.”
It is understood that a resolution has now been reached which means staff do not have to pay back the additional hours within their contract.
Shift patterns mean staff may be owed hours, or may owe the NHS hours, over the course of a month. Any hours owed must be paid back within three months.
A Royal Stoke spokesman said: “Pre Covid-19 critical care staff regularly worked 12-hour shifts. During Covid-19 we have recommended that staff in critical care and other areas in the hospital which have required people to wear full PPE, work shorter shifts.
“Staff may have chosen to work additional hours on existing shifts to make up hours to suit their own schedules and home life. This has not been not recommended or supported.”