Learning from complaints


NHS Professionals’ Clinical Governance team manage and monitor all complaints received from client Trusts.

As the graph below shows the number of complaints received is small compared to the two million shifts filled in 2012/13, however two of the issues that have been highlighted are sleeping on duty and poor attitude or behaviour on assignments.

Complaints- Artice 2 V3

Complaints about sleeping on duty 

Analysis of complaint data has shown that, in reported serious incidents where harm occurs to a patient, it is significantly more likely to occur on night shifts. Of those reported incidents, sleeping on duty was one of a number of recurring contributory factors.

Many flexible workers choose to work nights to accommodate home-work balance, part-time study or as a way of supplementing other income.

NHS Professionals wants to work in partnership with you to provide the best possible service to Trusts and, ultimately, the patients. However, it is your responsibility to ensure you are fit to attend all assignments and are able to maintain a safe environment for:


NHS Professionals and client Trusts designate sleeping on duty as gross misconduct, and many client Trusts dismiss staff at the first recorded incidence.

We want to help you to remain valued members of the NHS Professionals community by maximising your effectiveness while on shift and minimising the risk of a complaint being made about sleeping on duty.

Night time shift work brings with it a set of demands that require careful consideration and strategies to maximum effectiveness while at work, and to maintain personal wellbeing.

Top tips to consider when working night shifts

We know that there are many factors that make night shifts particularly demanding assignments in terms of remaining alert and vigil. We can see through a number of stories what can go wrong when healthcare workers fall asleep on duty, including this story of a nurse who fell asleep during a night shift. A recent study from the American Journal of Critical Care, found nurses suffering from a lack of sleep were more likely to regret clinical decisions than those who felt well-rested.

Here are our top tips on how to keep awake and fresh during a night shift:

• Consider how many shifts you are able to safely work in a week without affecting your performance and take into account your responsibility for the safety of the patient, your colleagues, and yourself.

• Consider if the number of shifts worked in a week should be broken up into small units of manageable work bundles to achieve adequate rest between night shifts. NHS Professionals recommends you work (ideally) two weeks of day shifts every three months, but if this proves impracticable, you should aim to work at least one week of day every three months.

• Consider any commitments you may have during the day which prevent you from resting adequately before attending a shift.

• Prior to your shift, prioritise good quality sleep and ensure you start your shift well rested. You should restrict overtime and extra shifts when it involves a short turnaround time.

• When on shift, recognise the developing signs of fatigue in yourself and colleagues. These include: slowed reaction time; cloudy thinking; struggling to stay awake; increased clumsiness; irritability and impaired memory.

About the author

NHS Professionals administrator

NHS Professionals manages the temporary staffing needs of around 66 NHS Trusts across England. An integral part of the NHS, it aims to reduce Trusts’ spending on flexible workers without compromising quality, by providing greater transparency of demand and supplying bank staff at the best possible rate. Its bank of more than 40,000 flexible workers comprises general and specialist nurses, doctors, midwives, admin/clerical , allied health professionals, healthcare scientists, support services among other healthcare professionals.

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