More NHS staff feeling unwell due to work stress

Four out of 10 NHS workers have felt unwell due to work-related stress in the last year – the worst level for five years, official data shows.

Almost one in three thinks about leaving their job, while others suffer discrimination at work and bullying.

Experts said the results, taken from the annual survey of almost half a million workers, show an “alarming downturn in the wellbeing of hardworking NHS staff”.

A report pointed to “an overall decline in staff health and wellbeing”, with fewer employees feeling their workplace takes positive action.

  • 2018 - 39.8%
  • 2016 - 36.8%

Some 39.8% of staff reported feeling unwell due to stress in the last 12 months – a measure that has been in decline since 2016 when the figure was 36.8%.

The 2018 result is the worst result in the last five years, while more staff are experiencing physical stress on their bodies.

Some 27.6% have experienced musculoskeletal problems due to work in the last 12 months, continuing a steadily worsening trend since 2015, when the figure was 24.8%.

The survey also found that fewer than one in three (28.6%) staff felt their organisation definitely takes positive action on health and wellbeing, 3% lower than in 2017 (31.8%).

Meanwhile, 8.1% of staff said they had suffered discrimination by managers and colleagues (same as 2017), while 6.9% had done so at the hands of patients and service users (up from 6.6%).

Almost one in three (29.9%) said they often think about leaving their NHS organisation, and 21.6% will probably look for a job at a new organisation in the next 12 months.

The survey found that while most staff (80.7%) are satisfied with the quality of care they give to patients, this has been on a downward trend since 2016, when it was 82.7%.

And 27.8% staff reported seeing an error, near miss or incident in the last month that could have hurt patients – almost 3% up on the 25% in 2017.

However, slightly more staff said they would feel secure raising concerns about unsafe clinical practice and more staff were satisfied with the recognition they get for good work than in the previous year.

The number that agree there are enough staff in their organisation for them to do their job properly is the highest proportion in the last five years, at 32%.

Professor John Appleby, chief economist at the Nuffield Trust, said: “After years of holding up against all the odds, today’s figures confirm an alarming downturn in the wellbeing of hardworking NHS staff.

“These pressures are not just a matter for staff themselves but have a knock-on effect on patients too.

“Satisfaction in the quality of care that staff feel they can provide is continuing to decline and the proportion of staff who saw something that could have hurt patients has risen to 28%.

“This could be in part down to increased awareness and better reporting, but it is still a worrying sign and offers an insight into the heavy burden that many staff carry during their shifts.”

Unison head of health Sara Gorton said: “While the Government is consumed with Brexit, ministers are paying scant attention to growing problems in our public services.

“With so few staff, it’s no wonder the pressures of working in the NHS are making so many health workers ill.”

Dame Donna Kinnair, acting chief executive and general secretary of the Royal College of Nursing (RCN), said increasing numbers of NHS staff are enjoying going to work and “this shows that some good work is being done on the shop floor to make staff feel happier”.

But she added: “Half of all staff have raised low staffing levels as an issue, more are saying they are working unpaid overtime to keep the service running, and increasing numbers report seeing errors that could harm patients.

“These are all indicative of a health service with a cavernous gap between the number of staff it has and what it actually needs to meet demand.”

Neil Churchill, director of 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.”

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