NHS Staff Face Rising Stress Levels, Survey Finds

Peter Russell

February 27, 2019

Rising stress levels among health workers and bullying by NHS management has gone unchallenged as the Government has taken its focus off public services to deal with the increasing challenges posed by Brexit, a leading health union said.

The comment came in the wake of this year's NHS staff survey for England which found a downturn in wellbeing among healthcare workers.

It showed that 19.1% of healthcare staff reported personal experience of harassment, bullying or abuse at work from other colleagues, up from 18% the previous year.

Work-Related Stress

Among key changes in results for the 2018 analysis were that 39.8% of healthcare workers reported feeling unwell as a result of work-related stress during a 12 month period. Also, 56.5% said they had turned up for work despite not feeling well enough over a 3 month period.

Fewer workers felt their healthcare trusts took positive action on health and wellbeing, with only 28.6% agreeing they did, a decrease of more than 3% compared with the previous year.

NHS England said there were some positive trends emerging. It said more than 7 in 10 would recommend their organisation to their family and friends for treatment, a proportion it said that had increased every year for the past 4 years.

Also, an increasing number of staff would recommend their own organisation as a place to work, with 74% expressing enthusiasm about their job, a 6% rise on the same findings in 2014, it said.

Workforce Overhaul

Neil Churchill, director for patient experience at NHS England, said: "Whilst there are a number of positives in this year's survey, it is also clear that local employers can do more to improve and we would expect all trusts to listen to the results from their staff survey and take appropriate action."

This year's results precede proposals from the NHS Workforce Implementation Plan, due for publication next month.

Baroness Dido Harding, chair of NHS Improvement, who is heading the workforce implementation plan, said: "Today’s results underline the need to change and improve the culture of the NHS to make sure every member of staff is supported to develop and thrive.

"A key part of the workforce implementation plan is looking at how we can make the NHS the best place to work for current and future staff and to improve our leadership capabilities at team, organisation and system levels."

The survey was carried out between September and December 2018 across 304 NHS organisations and involved responses from 497,000 healthcare workers, an increase of 10,000 compared with 2017.

The survey is produced as a resource for NHS trusts and commissioners to help them improve staff experience. The Care Quality Commission will use the results to help make sure safety and quality standards are being met.

'Struggling to Maintain Standards'

Commenting on the findings, Dr Chaand Nagpaul, chair of the council of the British Medical Association, said: "The findings of the 2018 NHS Staff Survey show that doctors and other health care professionals across England are working in a system under extreme pressure due to chronic underfunding, workforce shortages and rising patient demand.

"As a result, they are struggling daily to sustain high standards of patient care.

"Work related issues such as bullying, harassment and burnout caused by impossible workloads are damaging the physical and mental health of doctors. This then directly affects the quality of care they can give patients.

"Government and employers not only have a clear duty of care to the medical workforce but also to patients and so must act urgently and decisively to tackle these issues by addressing their root causes."

Suzie Bailey, director of leadership and organisational development at health think tank The King's Fund said: "The service needs to do everything it can to retain staff, so it is deeply worrying that stress levels have hit a 5-year high, with 40% reporting work-related stress within the last 12 months.

"It is simply unacceptable that so many NHS staff face abuse and discrimination from their colleagues at work. Action is needed at every level of the health service to create environments where staff can do their very best work.

"Despite mounting pressure on the NHS, there is some good news for staff. More employees report feeling valued and a greater proportion feel that they are recognised for good work.

"Workforce is one of the Secretary of State's priority areas, and the NHS long-term plan aims to make the health service a 'consistently great place to work'. Today's figures make clear there is a long way to go before the rhetoric becomes reality."


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