NHS nurses and other staff have become the “shock absorbers” of a health service under chronic strain, according to a new report on improving wellbeing at work.
Safe and compassionate care for patients depends on staff being listened to and supported, said the briefing from the Point of Care Foundation, which was published today.
“It is vital that organisations take visible action which demonstrates their commitment to listening to staff”
The hard truths learnt through the Francis Inquiry into the care failings at the former Mid Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust were in danger of being forgotten in the light of “unprecedented, continuing, and seemingly endless service pressures”, it warned.
It called on organisations to prioritise staff experience and strengthen efforts to protect staff from stress and burnout, because the way staff feel at work affects the way they care for patients.
The foundation’s briefing – titled In Behind Closed Doors – presents evidence on current pressures and staff experience.
For example, during 2004-16, the number of attendances at accident and emergency increased by 18%, from 12.7 million to 15 million. But only one in two staff feel their NHS employer values them and their work.
“Investment in staff is an investment in high quality, safe care”
Meanwhile, 2% of health and social care staff suffer work-related stress anxiety and depression in the NHS, compared to around 1.2% of the overall British workforce
The foundation said it was hard to deliver personalised care in an environment in which staff themselves do not feel cared about.
A positive staff experience is fundamental if staff are expected to be at their best with patients, it said.
The briefing recommended a focus on support for bottom-up initiatives that acknowledged the “intrinsic motivations” that staff feel to care for patients, and for actions at every level of the NHS to enable staff to be at their best with patients.
For example, it said frontline staff should prioritise their own wellbeing, communicate their concerns, and use their own knowledge to take action to improve care and to feel motivated.
“There must also be long-term investment in the workforce and in UK healthcare”
However, organisations should also provide staff with greater access to psychosocial support and forums for reflective practice, it said.
Jocelyn Cornwell, chief executive of the Point of Care Foundation, said: “While it is positive that most NHS trusts now have strategies to engage their staff, there is patchy evidence of their effectiveness.
“In the face of increasing pressures, it is vital that organisations take visible action which demonstrates their commitment to listening to staff,” she said.
“It is by taking steps to support staff that we can make improvements at the point of care,” she added.
Cathy Warwick, chief executive of the Royal College of Midwives, stated: “This report deserves attention.
“Successive surveys show that midwives are finding it hard to cope with the increasing pressures placed on them and more and more are either voting with their feet or suffering from stress and anxiety,” she said.
“The report says that it is hard to deliver the best care in an environment in which staff themselves don’t feel cared about,” said Professor Warwick.
“We need the government to show staff they value them by removing the public sector pay cap and making the funds available to pay NHS staff a fair pay rise,” she said. “Investment in staff is an investment in high quality, safe care.”
Professor Neena Modi, president of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Heath, said: “Demand on the NHS is growing, patient expectations are rightly rising, yet investment in the healthcare workforce is failing to keep pace even though the country can and should afford to do better.
“Today’s report is welcome in highlighting the pressures on NHS staff and calling for more support to protect their wellbeing,” she said. “But it is only one part of the answer; there must also be long-term investment in the workforce and in UK healthcare.”
The Point of Care Foundation is an independent not-for-profit organisation that aims to improve patient experience and increase support for the staff who work with them.
It promotes Schwartz Rounds, the initiative developed in the US, that is designed to provide opportunities for healthcare staff to open up about difficult experiences at work.