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Health and wellbeing of NHS staff too often seen as ‘optional extra’

Staff health and wellbeing in the NHS is often seen as an optional extra, with more than a third of trusts not having plans in place to support their workforce, the Royal College of Physicians (RCP) has warned. 

In its study – Work and wellbeing in the NHS: why staff health matters to patient care – RCP stated that good staff health, wellbeing and engagement can reap significant benefits for patient safety, including reduced MRSA infection rates and lower patient mortality rates. 

It was revealed that organisations with higher levels of staff engagement have been found to have 13% lower staff turnover and significantly reduced sickness absence rates.  Similarly, healthcare providers can reap over £9 in benefits for every £1 spent on staff health and wellbeing programmes. 

However, the report cites a lack of national leadership, lack of empowerment within the NHS and mental health provision as areas for concern. 

This issue has been scrutinised and discussed for the last 20 years with little meaningful change, stated the RCP. For instance, with only two-thirds of trusts having a plan in place for the health and wellbeing of staff – and nearly 40% of staff reporting they have suffered work related stress – they say it is clear that action is needed “now”. 

Dr Sian Williams, RCP clinical adviser on NHS workforce health, said: “Now that we have clear evidence that the health of NHS staff affects the quality of care that patients receive, it is time to move beyond short term, one-off initiatives to help staff improve their health at work. 

“Trusts must consider staff health in all that they do; this includes the design of buildings, the work environment, and the work itself. Most importantly it includes the way staff are managed.”

NHS Employers CEO Danny Mortimer said the NHS faces “an uphill struggle” against growing pressure. “We back the call for greater national support for this vital area, which builds on the work being done by many employers in the NHS,” he said. 

Dr Alasdair Emslie, president of the Society of Occupational Medicine, added that the report from the RCP has important messages that the NHS needs to take heed of if it is to use its finite resources effectively.  

And Peter Carter, chief executive and general secretary of the RCN, said: “This report shines a light on one of the most serious issues facing the NHS. 

“The Boorman review demonstrated the importance of staff health and wellbeing programmes for NHS organisations more than five years ago, yet this appears to have been ignored by too many trusts.”

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