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Overstretched NHS staff forced to go hungry and skip breaks to keep up with patient care

OVERSTRETCHED NHS staff are suffering from a “no breaks, no food” work culture which is leaving them hungry and affecting patient care, a new worker survey reveals. 

The shocking research, published by health union Unison yesterday, shows that 53 per cent are unable to take regular breaks and nearly a fifth have no time for a proper meal, instead grabbing snacks like crisps or chocolate during busy shifts.

The figures, based on a survey of 8,573 health staff working in hospitals and mental health trusts across Britain, suggest 7 per cent of staff never take a break, while 15 per cent only rest rarely.

One employee, who works in an operating theatre, told the survey: “If I do get a lunch break, it’s only 30 minutes at most.

“This doesn’t leave time to get changed out of scrubs, attend the hospital canteen, queue, eat, get back to work, change and start working again.”

Chronic staff shortages and the massive coronavirus-related treatment backlog are creating “intolerable pressures,” Unison warned. 

Campaigners accused Tory ministers of being in denial about the reality of the crisis, with Keep Our NHS Public (KONP) telling the Morning Star that “proper long-term investment” in the health service and its workers is needed.  

According to the poll, even those staff who can take a break often struggle to find somewhere quiet to unwind, with many doing so in offices, corridors, hospital chapels or even store cupboards. 

A lack of food and drink during both day and night shifts is a major issue, with more than half of workers saying that being hungry or thirsty sometimes affects the quality of their work. 

More than a quarter – 28 per cent – are unable to eat a healthy meal at work and about a fifth of these rely on take-outs because there is no on-site facility.

Slamming the unacceptable situation, Unison head of health Sara Gorton said: “NHS employees need proper spaces to unwind, not cupboards or corridors.

“Healthy food should also be available to sustain them during the long hours they work.

“Otherwise, workers will end up quitting for jobs that allow healthier, less stressful lifestyles.”

Rachel Harrison from fellow health union GMB warned that NHS workers are “at breaking point due to the staffing crisis which the government are failing to address.”

She told the Star: “Unions have warned government that their failure to address low pay in the NHS will result in more staff leaving.

“This year’s pay award was due in April and there are still no signs of what it will be or when it will be received.”

KONP co-chair Dr John Puntis said that workers’ basic rights are “being denied,” telling the Star: “Many overworked and underpaid employees are simply leaving and seeking a caring employer elsewhere.

“These problems can only be addressed if the government provides proper long-term investment and there is a change in culture to one of appreciating the efforts of front-line staff.”

The We Own It campaign accused Tory ministers of displaying “rank disdain” for the health service. 

“They’re not just starving the NHS of the resources and the staff it needs, they are quite literally starving its staff of healthy lunches,” lead campaigner Johnbosco Nwogbo told the Star.

“We must keep fighting to ensure our NHS gets the funding it needs [and] its staff are treated fairly.”

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said its “top priority” is the health and wellbeing of hardworking staff. 

“There are record numbers of staff and we are over halfway towards meeting our commitment to recruiting 50,000 extra nurses by 2024,” the spokesperson added. 

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