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‘Worrying’ stress levels among primary care staff


Practice nurses and their colleagues in primary care are being put at risk of developing mental health problems by the increasing stress levels they face in the workplace, a charity has warned.

The concerns come against a background of increasing pressure on primary care services affected by rising demand and staff shortages.

“We need to make sure that healthcare professionals are well and supported”

Paul Farmer

A survey of 1,000 primary care workers by Mind found almost nine out of 10 considered their work life to be stressful, significantly higher than the wider UK workforce.

In addition, 43% of respondents said workplace stress had led them to resign or consider resigning from their jobs, indicating the significant psychological impact of stress on primary care workers.

Meanwhile, 21% said stress had actually led them to develop a mental health problem, 17% that it had led to them take medication as a result and 8% that it had sparked suicidal thoughts.

As well as the impact on mental health, the poll also found that stress had a significant impact on the physical health of primary care staff.

For example, 83% said it affected their ability to sleep and 54% that it impacted directly on their physical health. Workplace stress has also led to 17% calling in sick to avoid work.

The poll of over 1,000 GPs, practice nurses and other NHS practice staff, showed that work was the most stressful area of their lives – ahead of finance, health, family life and relationships.

Mind noted that the results showed many stressed staff had resorted to unhealthy coping mechanisms, with 42% drinking alcohol at least once a week and 8% smoking every day to help deal with workplace pressure.

One of the biggest problems facing primary care staff appeared to be a fear of disclosing their stress levels in the workplace, said the charity.

It noted that this was “perhaps unsurprising” when 31% of respondents felt that disclosing that they are overly stressed would lead to them being perceived as less capable than other colleagues.

A further 22% also felt that disclosing would count against them when they were considered for promotion.

Paul Farmer Chief Executive Mind

Paul Farmer Chief Executive Mind

Paul Farmer

Paul Farmer, chief executive of Mind, said: “Everyone has mental health that needs looking after and this is just as true for GPs, nurses and their colleagues in primary care.

“These figures paint a worrying picture, suggesting that levels of stress among primary care staff are having a real impact on both their mental and physical wellbeing,” he said.

“We need to make sure that healthcare professionals are well and supported, so they can provide the best care for their patients,” said Mr Farmer.

He added: “Working in primary care doesn’t, however, make it any easier to find the words to talk about your mental health at work. It needs to be okay for primary care staff to talk about it.”

Mind commissioned Dods Research to poll NHS staff working in primary care. The poll was conducted online during June 2016, and over 1,000 staff took part over a two-week period.

The British Medical Association said the poll reinforced its own findings on workplace stress – the results of a similar survey were published in February.

The BMA said practice staff were “under unsustainable pressure because they are having to work long, intense hours on dwindling resources against a backdrop of rocketing patient demand”.

NHS England’s General Practice Forward View, published in April, included £16m to support primary care staff experiencing burnout and stress.


Readers' comments (4)

  • I'm leaving general practice exactly for this reason however there are unspoken elements here as well. On top of the staff shortages there is the continuing anxiety of missing something important that may result in causing harm. The lack of support in making decisions, the continual criticism and battling with colleagues in secondary care to admit someone for investigation and opinion, the pressure to work outside your zone of confidence and lightly supervised competence. The responsibility of dealing with very complex presentations in 10 minutes, eg. Suicidal thoughts plus chest pain plus carer for partner plus PIP assessment plus vulnerable children to include. Not unusual in my current practice.
    No give in the current primary care climate.

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  • I take on board what you say but don't know where is better. Major trauma ward sick patients, capacity demanding multiple "unsuitable" ward transfers to other wards to clear beds to stop A/E breaches complaining relatives and 2 trained staff 1 a conscript from another ward and so much staff sickness there are only 8 members of staff to form a rota !!!. Welcome to the nhs yesterday.

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  • It's everywhere in the NHS I work in community and its just as bad there. What we need is for managers to recognise this is happening and develop strategies to deal with nurses stress before they hit burn out and start suffering mental health issues. Nurses help patients with mental health but no one helps nurses we are expected to just get on with.

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  • I work in an IAPT service.
    The demands of the service has impacted considerably on my own mental health.
    My role seems to have lost its identity. It's how many people we see rather than outcomes that are positive for the patient.
    My role it seems has become more of a gatekeeper to mental health services. A role which used to be provided by crisis resolution teams.
    I am supposed to work with mild to moderate mental health problems but have had people on my caseload who carry a lot of risk. Therefore I feel more like a surrogate nurse.
    Can't see things getting better. Therefore I am seriously considering quitting the Nhs.
    However signposting on is difficult

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