Hospital bosses concerned about NHS staff burnout ahead of winter

Hospital bosses in England have raised concerns about staff burnout from the first wave of coronavirus ahead of the winter months.

Leaders warned of a “perfect storm” of workforce shortages, staff burnout, a second wave of Covid-19 and a difficult winter, according to a survey by NHS Providers.

Concerns were also raised by hospital bosses about funding for social care in their local area, and the impact of seasonal pressures over winter amid rising coronavirus cases.

Almost all surveyed (99%) said they were either extremely or moderately concerned about the current level of burnout across the workforce.

One director of nursing told NHS Providers that staff had been working long hours in “high stress circumstances for quite some time”, adding that it was a “real concern”.

Another chief executive reported than some staff were “energised” and had been recommitted to their career during the crisis while others were “exhausted”.

Just over a third of trust leaders (34%) said they were extremely concerned about the current level of burnout across their workforce, while 48% reported being moderately concerned and 17% slightly concerned.

Chris Hopson, chief executive of NHS Providers, said there had been “no let-up in the pressure” during the pandemic, which followed a difficult winter for staff.

“And while the response to the spring surge in Covid-19 cases showed the NHS at its best, the pressures took their toll on staff who gave so much,” he said.

“The worry is that the sustained physical, psychological and emotional pressure on health staff is threatening to push them beyond their limits of endurance.”

Over half of trust leaders surveyed (56%) said they were extremely concerned about the impact of seasonal pressures over winter on their trust and local area, while some 38% said they were moderately concerned.

“We have a perfect storm on the horizon; depleted staff, depleted capacity, increasing workload,” one chief executive said.

Leaders from 140 NHS trusts and foundation trusts across England responded to the survey, which was conducted during August.

Meanwhile, some 83% of trust leaders reported that they were worried or very worried that sufficient investment is not being made in social care in their local area.

NHS Providers, which represents NHS trust leaders, warned that leaders had remarked that the “discharge flow” from hospitals back into the community was starting to slow down.

“And when you ask them what’s the problem, what comes back is effectively problems in social care because of lack of capacity,” Mr Hopson said.

“That’s not surprising given current funding problems in local government.”

Dame Donna Kinnair, chief executive and general secretary of the Royal College of Nursing called on the Government to invest in more nurses and award them a 12.5% pay rise.

She said: “Government must act now to deliver the nursing staff needed. There has been investment in beds and buildings but whether hospitals are rebuilt or wholly new, they will struggle to provide safe and effective patient care without enough nurses.”

A Department of Health and Social Care spokeswoman said: “Supporting the mental health and wellbeing of NHS staff is a top priority, particularly during this unprecedented pandemic.

“The NHS People Plan, published in July, places wellbeing at its heart and includes practical support like more rest and recuperation spaces and support services if someone needs immediate advice. We are also increasing the number of doctors and nurses with more than 50,000 more nurses by the end of this Parliament.

“Over £3 billion in funding has been provided to prepare the NHS for winter on top of a record cash funding boost of £33.9 billion extra a year for the NHS by 2023/24 alongside a new adult social care winter plan containing significant funding.”