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How many hours does a nurse staff work in the UK?

A nurse at her workstation holding a clock in hand.

How many hours does a nursing professional work in the UK?

If you are dreaming of pursuing a career as a nurse in the UK, you have probably researched the area you want to specialise in, the pay rates you can expect when you start and when you move to a higher nursing band, where you are likely to work, or whether you want to be an NHS nurse or a nurse in the private sector. 

One of the major aspects that you need to prepare for when becoming a nurse is the way in which you will be working. The working hours for nurses in the UK and in general vastly differ from all other jobs. Therefore, if you intend to pursue your ambition, reconsider and determine whether you are truly willing and satisfied with such a job. 

In this article, we will look at the working hours of nurses in the UK so that you can get a better understanding of your potential profession. 

Why are nurses' working hours so different from those of other professions?

The prime reason why nurses working hours vary to such a great extent is due to the nature of their work. Caring for patients is a job that comes in all shapes, forms, and levels of severity. For this very reason, there are no clear-cut working hours for nurses in the UK. Furthermore, a shortage of nurses in the UK and an overwork load have compelled nurses to go above and beyond their call of duty in recent years. 

Having said that, as a nurse, your work hours may differ substantially from those of other nurses in the profession. Though all nurses have similar tasks, such as giving care, comfort, and direction to patients, your responsibilities will vary depending on the type of nurse you are. This is also evident in the nurses' working hours and routines. 

This is especially true in the case of specialist nurses, as the working pattern and hours of work of nurses in the ICU differ drastically from nurses in GP practice. Though both nurses might have similar responsibilities to some extent, the severity, work environment, and so on also need to be considered. 

Typical working patterns for nurses in the UK

In general, nurses base their work on the following factors: 
1. Demand 
2. Location 
3. Preference 

Hospitals and several healthcare facilities in the UK are open 24 hours a day, which means they need staff around the clock. If you are a full-time nurse in a private facility, your work hours tend to range between 36 to 40 hours a week. However, when it comes to NHS nurses and other NHS professionals, they have to work 37.5 hours a week. Part-time nurses in either sector, however, work less than 30 hours a week. 

How long are nurses' shifts in the UK?

The most common shift pattern for nurses in the UK is 8-hour shifts, 10-hour shifts, and 12-hour shifts. Some hospitals will have a standard 12-hour shift pattern, working 3 days per week on rotation. Whereas another might have an 8-hour shift rotation, working early or late shifts over 5 days, and another might have a 10-hour shift working over 4 days a week. This ensures that the hospital is always staffed with skilled nurses. However, each hospital or healthcare institution will have its own regulations about working hours for nurses and other workers. 

Let's take a closer look at the most typical shift patterns for nurses in the UK below: 

8-hour nursing shifts:

Many nurses split their full-time hours over five days by working eight-hour shifts. The amount of time you spend at work each day is similar to that of a conventional job. It can also be the closest work pattern to a 9-5 in many cases, as nurses in hospital and school environments are sometimes only required during conventional business hours. 

If you land this type of nursing job, you will mostly be working during the weekdays. This depends on where you work, as certain clinical institutions, for example, are open seven days a week. It is not uncommon for nurses to work 8-hour shifts in hospitals and other settings that operate around the clock, but you will most likely be required to complete evening, weekend, or night hours in addition to working throughout the week. 

10-hour nursing shifts:

If you want to spend more time at home, you can shorten your shifts and work in 10-hour stints over four days. This will give you a full three days off a week, and in most cases, you can choose to take these consecutively or space them out between your nursing shifts. Even though 10-hour shifts do exist, you will find most employers in the UK offering either an 8-hour or 12-hour shift. If this shift schedule appeals to you, you should hunt for nursing jobs in 24/7 clinical settings. 

12-hour nursing shifts: 

This is the most demanding nursing shift, yet it is also the most popular. Many employers prefer this pattern of shift as they will have staff available round-the-clock to provide care for the patients. Most of the nurses also prefer this pattern, as it allows them more time off each week. This shift pattern can mostly be seen in care facilities where 24-hour care is provided, such as assisted living homes, hospitals, and urgent care centres.  

60% of NHS nurses operate 12-hour shifts. Typically, the timeframes are: 

7 a.m. to 7 p.m. 
7 p.m. to 7 a.m. 

Why do nurses in the UK prefer 12-hour shifts?

1. Shortened work week: Nurses working this shift will work three days a week and have four days off. This will be beneficial for nurses who have a long commute, as it can be appealing and translate into fewer hours on the road. Moreover, those who require child care will also prefer this option. 
2. Work-life balance: You will have a full four days off a week to spend with your family and run other personal errands. 
3. Flexibility: Nurses can cluster shifts together in order to have longer chunks of time off, giving them more time to do things like relax, spend time with friends, and so on. 

Though this working pattern might seem appealing, it definitely has its own pitfalls, such as constant exhaustion, emotional damage, and health risks, which can't be overlooked. 

Part-time nurse's hours: 

Part-time nurses in the UK typically work less than 30 hours per week, and it can be a lot less than this. Nurses generally choose this for several reasons, including, wanting to keep registration and certification active or even having a healthy and happy work-life balance. 

Understand that each shift system has advantages and disadvantages. At Nurses Group UK, you can choose your shift at your leisure because we offer flexible shifts to our agency nursing staff and allow them to book their shifts in advance based on their availability. 

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