Letters

It would be foolhardy for any manager to play down the significance of the recent Bristol employment tribunal ruling that Wiltshire Healthcare trust discriminated against married women when it introduced a new shift system for nurses last year (news, 21 January).

Contrary to Andrew Forster's comments, the ruling clearly stated that 'the decision to introduce compulsory rotating shifts for all nursing staff, without allowance for childcare responsibilities, was not justifiable'. This isn't a point of 'process' - it's about employers having to be sensitive to the needs of staff with caring responsibilities.

For trusts facing a shortage of at least 13,000 registered nurses, this should be common sense. The government certainly thinks so - as far back as 1997, the then health minister, Alan Milburn, said: 'We will not get the best for patients unless we develop more family friendly employment policies'.

The Royal College of Nursing does not argue that internal rotation shift systems are wrong per se ; rather that to impose new employment policies without any flexibility at all is poor practice (although the ruling also noted that there was no research produced to suggest the benefits of internal rotation).

I hope this more accurate picture of the Bristol case will encourage managers everywhere to work more collaboratively with staff to address the chronic shortage of nurses and its impact on patient care.

Christine Hancock General secretary Royal College of Nursing