It is an infringement of labor law to consistently miss lunch breaks. Not that we as nurses don't have it worked into our culture to "not be weanies". If we are good nurses and committed to patient care, we won't "short our patients" and be indulgent enough to take a full 30 minutes away from our patients, right? Yes, I am bitter about this. Leave it to a profession that has historically been a woman"s profession to be so ridiculously self sacrificing.
So, this is my take, and what is legal. Staffing should be adequate enough that all nurses are able to step away from their patient assignments and have another nurse assume whatever patient care responsibilities are being left behind. No need for a pager, no risk of being called back. It is supposed to be a 30 minutes AWAY, both physically and mentally.
This issue exploded on our very busy floor last year, where all nurses were chronically not getting lunch breaks. A letter was written to immediate supervisors describing the unsafe staffing assignments and dangerous lack of breaks. Let's face it, none of us are working at our best when unable to eat or hydrate, ESPECIALLY when working a 12 hour shift. There was no concrete resolution from that meeting, although some attempts made to remedy how to get breaks, ie a "buddy system", where one nurse would be responsible for double the number of patients. Unworkable on our floor. Eventually, a more pointed letter was drafted to the Board of Directors and CEOs of the hospital describing the actual bedside reality. We got some action pretty quickly. Our charge nurse is now no longer assuming a patient load so she can assist in giving breaks more consistently, staffing ratios have been more concretely defined, and we attempt to have a "flex" nurse to help give breaks, assist in emergencies, float the floor to give assistance where needed.
It is a legal issue, and no hospital competing for private patients would want the public perception of having overworked, fatigued nurses on the edge of blacking out caring for vulnerable patients. There is protection for workers pointing out unsafe working conditions.
Not only are we now getting our breaks, our overall staffing is better, even in light of the current fiscal crisis. There is the occassional shift where a lunch is missed, when things are exploding. We all step up and expect that sometimes. But the NORM is that we get our lunch. Push the issue of bedside safety. It is real and consumers EXPECT attentive safe nursing attention. It is our responsibility to insure that is what we are able to deliver.