NHS staff have been banned from drinking cups of tea and coffee at their desks in three of the biggest hospitals in Leicester. Managers at the hospitals claimed that the sight of staff drinking hot and cold drinks at the reception desks and in public areas angered patients enduring long waits in clinic waiting rooms and gave an impression the that the staff were not working hard enough. Water, however, is permitted under the new ruling, according to a hospital spokesman, although other drinks are banned. Staff and patients have criticised the new regulations and claim that not allowing staff to drink at their desks will prevent staff from having a drink for many hours as there is often not enough cover to allow staff to take allotted breaks.
Reception staff in hospitals are often the first point of contact for patients who are sometimes nervous about their treatment, anxious about their diagnosis or frustrated by delays and long waiting times. Allowing staff to drink at their desks enables them to carry on working without having to leave the desk unmanned and to work while they drink.
Long waiting times and delays in receiving treatment are not caused, however, by staff drinking tea and coffee during their working hours, but by the increased pressure put on the NHS by a growing population and a shrinking budget. There are now more people living longer than ever before, and many more treatments available on the NHS, so hospitals are put in the position of having to prioritise patients and extend waiting lists. Many departments in the NHS are faced with having to treat an increasing number of patients and comply with strict deadlines and targets while dealing with staff cuts and lack of resources. Hiring freezes prevent hospitals from replacing staff who leave for various reasons, and pay freezes mean that some staff members are forced to leave for better paying positions.
Nursing and support worker unions are calling on the government to review the NHS and address the issues faced by health workers. They suggest that this ban on staff drinking at their desks is yet another symptom of the overstretched NHS and that instead of banning drinks, managers should encourage staff to take proper breaks by providing enough staff to enable this.