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Sleep pods to help tired doctors at Tunbridge Wells Hospital

We all know how hard some NHS staff had to work, even before the Covid pandemic made things much worse.

But now action has been taken at Tunbridge Wells Hospital to help exhausted staff with three rest pods installed for junior doctors to use during breaks in their shifts.

The futuristic-looking pods are ergonomically designed for comfort and come with a hood to offer the user some privacy.

A spokesperson for Maidstone and Tunbridge Wells NHS Trust said: “As part of our staff wellbeing plans, three specially designed rest pods were installed - one in a room near the neonatal unit at Tunbridge Wells Hospital, the other two in the anaesthetics department.

“The rest pods provide a peaceful and relaxing space which doctors are encouraged to use so they can stay fresh and alert by getting extra sleep before a nightshift, taking a power nap during their break, or at the end of their shift."

Funding for the pods came from a £10m funding initiative from the Government, and provided by Health Education England (HEE) to enhance the working environment for junior doctors across NHS t Trusts in ENgland.

The Maidstone and Tunbridge Wells NHS Trust's share was £60,833. The three pods cost £18,274 and the trust has used the balance of the money to enhance doctors' facilities more generally both at Tunbridge Wells and Maidstone Hospitals.

Christopher Lindholst, a former chairman of the Sleep Technology Council, discussed the vital work now being done to tackle NHS staff "burnout" and sleep deprivation.

Mr Lindholst is now the MD of Restworks, the company that has supplied the nap pods to the Maidstone and Tunbridge Wells NHS Trust.

He said: "Research surrounding the sleep deprivation of NHS staff has revealed dangerous effects on patient safety, road safety and mental wellbeing.

"Long working hours impose a significant toll on the mental health of healthcare practitioners, whose rates of psychological distress and suicide attempts are higher than other professions.

A sleep pod at Tunbridge Wells hospital
A sleep pod at Tunbridge Wells hospital

"A survey carried out by the British Medical Journal found 31.5% of doctors experience high burnout, while 26.2% have high levels of traumatic stress."

He said that studies conducted among night-shift workers found attention failures to occur at more than double the rate compared with non-extended shifts, and the risk of medical errors three times higher.

Medical interns were found to commit 5.6 times more serious diagnostic errors and 20.8% more serious medication errors during shifts of 24 hours or more.

Mr Lindholst said: "Sleep deprivation can be dangerous."

The idea is not a new one. The Royal Wolverhampton NHS Trust was the first to try nap pods in June 2018.

Christopher Lindholst, Managing Director of Restworks. Picture Restworks
Christopher Lindholst, Managing Director of Restworks. Picture Restworks

The trust said staff found them so helpful, they have since installed a pod each in the A&E unit, the doctors’ mess and the maternity department at New Cross hospital.

Other hospitals to sign up include Hereford County Hospital and the Whittington Hospital in London.

Trusts have found that staff make use of one for an average of around of 27 minutes at a time, during a break.

Some doctors and nurses have been known to take a proper kip in them at the end of a tiring night-shift rather than risk driving home sleepy.

The pods are most commonly used between midnight and 4am and also between noon and 4pm.

The Tunbridge Wells hospital at Pembury
The Tunbridge Wells hospital at Pembury

Shockingly, research by the British Medical Journal found that two in five doctors admitted to have fallen asleep at the wheel while driving home from a night-shift.

The government has promised to spend £10m upgrading facilities to reduce fatigue and improve the wellbeing of hospital staff.

Read more: All the latest news from Maidstone

Read more: All the latest news from Tunbridge Wells

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