Skip navigation

Kate Benson and Louise Hall
May 5, 2009

“I become a zombie” … O’Bray Smith, a midwife, warns that patient safety is threatened by lengthy night shifts. Photo: Ben Rushton

FOR the first time, the life-threatening physical and psychological effects of shift work are being used to push for bigger pay packets for nurses and midwives in NSW.

The NSW Nurses Association launched its claim in the Industrial Relations Commission yesterday, calling in experts to cite studies linking shift work with higher rates of breast cancer, heart disease, miscarriage, clinical depression and divorce.

The test case could improve conditions for thousands of shift workers in other professions who have spent decades battling its effects.

“The reality is after a lifetime of nursing there are effects. Somebody has to work the night duty because hospitals operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week,” the union’s general secretary, Brett Holmes, said yesterday.

He said the State Government was opposing the claim, which calls for night penalty rates to rise from 15 per cent to 25 per cent – the first increase in more than 30 years – arguing it would cost too much and could set a precedent for other public servants.

Professor Ron Grunstein, a sleep expert from the Woolcock Institute of Medical Research, said the ill effects of working nights could not be ignored.

He spent five hours in the witness box yesterday, citing scientific evidence from studies that included more than 100,000 nurses in the United States and showed those on night duty experienced increases in coronary artery disease, breast cancer, weight gain, eating disorders, miscarriage, premature birth and low birth weight.

“In the 1970s, it was thought the effects of shift work were minor and transitory, but we know better now,” he said.

Last year the Australian Workers Union called for a review of working hours after a United Nations report found people who worked night shifts had a higher risk of contracting cancer.

The study, which was published in The Lancet and endorsed by the World Health Organisation, found that night shifts were carcinogenic because workers were exposed to light at night, disrupting their circadian rhythms.

It found that nurses who worked at night and flight attendants who continually crossed time zones had a higher risk of breast cancer than women who did not have their circadian rhythms disrupted, and that constant light, dim light at night, or simulated chronic jet lag could substantially increase tumour development.

O’Bray Smith, a registered midwife who works in a Sydney delivery ward, spends four months a year working 10-hour nights and says it completely disrupts her life.

“I become a zombie, I don’t see my friends, I can’t play competitive sport, I don’t do any physical activity before or after my shift because I am too exhausted, I never have time to shop so I eat junk food and I get depressed when there is nothing to be depressed about.

“I end up doing a full shift in an acute area without having enough sleep, and that impacts on patient safety. The extra money won’t give us our health back but at least it will reward us for doing what we are doing.”

http://www.smh.com.au/national/nurses-warn-of-nights-of-the-living-dead-20090504-asmf.html?page=-1

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: