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The Health and Social Care Committee report: Impact of staff burnout

The Commons Health and Social Care Committee have published their report on the workforce burnout and resilience in the NHS and social care. The report gathered various data from NHS surveys and evidence given to a committee of MPs at an inquiry, highlighting the issues regarding staff shortages; the impact of workforce burnout; workplace culture; impact of Covid-19 on burnout; and workforce planning.

It reiterates that the challenges surrounding funding pressures, and staff morale - as well as other issues - were present before the pandemic, but Covid-19 has added to the pressures. The problems were seen as imperative to resolve in order to attract and retain skilled staff, ensuring they are physically and mentally well, whilst ensuring high quality care is provided to patients and service users.

The report details the impact of burnout, pointing out the likelihood of this impacting people’s health, care quality, patient satisfaction, financial performance, absenteeism, and organisational performance. This was also grouped with impacting turnover and intention to quit, including higher levels of patient mortality in the acute sector. As suggested by The King’s Fund research, NHS staff were 50% more likely to experience high levels of work-related stress compared to the general working population.

The report found that one of the key factors of burnout and staff shortages was chronic excessive workload.

Professor Michael West of the King’s Fund, explained to the Committee: “The danger is that we do not see it. It is like the pattern on the wallpaper that we no longer see, but it is the No. 1 predictor of staff stress and staff intention to quit. It is also the No. 1 predictor of patient dissatisfaction. It is highly associated with the level of errors.

“Unless we have a well worked-out plan for how we can fill all the vacancies and reduce the attrition rate of staff in the NHS […] we are going to be in trouble”

Another aspect of the report looked at workplace culture, and following the Freedom to Speak Up Guardians data, some of the concerns included social distancing; PPE; redeployment of workers; and general anxiety around the pandemic (including risk to households).

Dr Henrietta Hughes OBE, National Guardian for the NHS, said during the launch of the report: “Workers’ voices form a key pillar of the NHS People Plan. But it is beholden on all leaders and managers to listen to what workers are saying and act upon what they hear.”

The 2019 NHS Staff Survey found that 40.3% felt unwell as a result of work-related stress in the last 12 months – compared to 36.8% in 2016. The latest part of the survey, suggested that 44% have now reported feeling unwell as a result of work-related stress in the last 12 months.

Deputy Chief Executive at NHS Providers, Saffron Cordery, said: "We wholeheartedly agree with the findings in this report, which will come as no surprise to trust leaders who have repeatedly raised concerns about workforce burnout in the NHS.”

According to a survey carried out by NHS Providers last year, 99% of trust leaders told them they were concerned about the current levels of burnout across the workforce.

Ms Cordery continued: “For some time, we have been calling on the government to embrace a longer-term approach to workforce planning, and to work with the NHS to deliver a fully costed and funded workforce strategy. This report underlines the importance and urgency of taking this approach, for the good of staff and patients.”

The Committee recommends that Health Education England publish objective, transparent and independently-audited annual reports on workforce projections, covering the next five, ten and twenty years, including an assessment of whether there are enough people being trained.

Ms Cordery continued: "There is a fundamental factor behind staff burnout which must be acknowledged and addressed:  persistent staff shortages have normalised excessive workloads and stress at work across the NHS. That, in turn, has meant we have lost far too many of our highly valued staff. We need to see extra, dedicated funding for local wellbeing initiatives as the report recommends.”

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