By Sam Foster, chief nurse at OUH

The last few weeks have not been particularly unusual, but I have had a couple of very long days with long periods of time without eating or drinking.

When I finished my working week, I felt physically and mentally exhausted.

I logged into my e-mails and there was a request to approve a video to accompany my trust’s campaign supporting the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) 3Rs campaign.

I had seen the first edit of the clip, however watching the video and re-looking at the background to this campaign following such a tiring week myself really made me consider what nurse leaders should be doing in respect of this campaign.

Read again: Oxford University Hospitals launches campaign to remind nurses to eat and drink

At the extreme, comments such as those quoted in the campaign material, 'I’ve told my staff to take their breaks it’s not my problem if they don’t take them', are typical from equally tired nurse leaders, and I felt that there was an opportunity to have a professional debate among our nurse leaders to support the culture of wellbeing required.

Among the resources to support the campaign, is a guide for managers to consider how to promote nursing staff taking their at-work breaks, by supporting them to keep well hydrated and enabling them to have access to nutritional food.

The resource outlines the case for making improvements and the legal responsibilities of employing organisations and provides tips and case studies to support the implementation of improvements.

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It also has a “myth busting” section sharing how we can have a conversation locally to overcome the numerous barriers that over time have stopped nurses from considering practical solutions for wellbeing such as water bottles on wards, it even advocates “power naps” whilst on long shifts.

The RCN 3Rs campaign—Rest, Rehydrate, Refuel—has also been designed to encourage nursing staff to look after themselves while at work.

It highlights the physical impact that dehydration has, for example, being dehydrated affects concentration and cognitive function—which is a patient safety concern given the safety-critical decisions that nurses make.

Although the RCN campaign is focused on nurses, this issue affects all colleagues.

A study by El Sharkawy et al (2016) involving 88 nurses and doctors on medical and surgical admissions wards at Nottingham University Hospitals NHS Trust found that 36 per cent were dehydrated before they had even started their shift.

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By the end of their shift 45 per cent were dehydrated.

In a recent opinion piece for the BMJ, Brennan et al (2019) raised the issue of breaks.

The three doctors and one pilot called for hospitals to remove barriers to doctors eating and drinking during the working day.

Probably the most important simile that Brenan et al used is to liken our approach to our own wellbeing to that of the instructions for oxygen masks on an aeroplane: put your own mask on first before helping others.

To give our patients the best care possible and to reduce the chance of medical error, we must make sure we look after ourselves too.

This vital prerequisite to safe practice needs to be supported.