Frequency of nursing tasks in medical and surgical wards

Barbara Farquharson, Cheryl Louise Bell, Derek Johnston, Martyn Jones, Pat Schofield, Julia Allan, Ian Ricketts, Kenny Morrison, Marie Johnston

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

21 Citations (Scopus)


To explore the frequency of different nursing tasks in medical and surgical wards.

The time nurses spend on direct patient care is important for both patients and nurses. However, little is known about the time nurses spend on various nursing tasks.

A real-time, repeated measures design conducted amongst 67 (n = 39 medical, n = 28 surgical) UK hospital nurses. Between September 2011 and August 2012 participants completed an electronic diary version of a classification of nursing tasks (WOMBAT) during shifts.

A total of 961 real-time measures of nursing task were obtained. Direct patient care [median = 37.5%, interquartile range = 27.8], indirect care (median = 11.1%, interquartile range = 19.4) and medication (median = 11.1%, interquartile range = 18.8) were most commonly reported. Participants were interrupted in 62% of entries (interquartile range = 35), reported adequate time in 78% (interquartile range = 31) and adequate resources in 89% (interquartile range = 36). Ward-related tasks were significantly more frequent on medical wards than surgical wards but otherwise there were no significant differences.

Nurses spend the highest proportion of time in direct patient care and majority of this on core nursing activities. Interruptions to tasks are common. Nurses tend to report adequate time/resources. The frequency of nursing tasks is similar in medical and surgical wards.

Implications for nursing management
Nurse managers should review the level of interruptions to nurses' work and ensure appropriate levels of supervision.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)860-866
Number of pages7
JournalJournal of Nursing Management
Issue number6
Early online date8 Aug 2013
Publication statusPublished - Sept 2013

Bibliographical note

© 2013 John Wiley & Sons Ltd.


  • activities
  • nursing
  • real-time
  • tasks


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