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NHS told to stop relying on personal resilience of stressed staff and offer more support

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NHS organisations must take more responsibility for protecting the mental health of their employees rather than relying on the personal resilience of stressed staff, workforce experts have warned.

They have identified a “gap” in understanding of the role trusts can play in minimising stress among healthcare professionals who do “very difficult jobs in challenging situations”.

“We must prioritise and improve the physical and mental health and wellbeing of our staff”

Lisa Bayliss-Pratt

To address this, a new resource has been launched today by the national body Health Education England (HEE) to help employers build a more supportive culture for their staff.

The Framework for improvement through reflection, curiosity and change was developed by the National Workforce Skills Development Unit, which is based at Tavistock and Portman NHS Foundation Trust, on behalf of HEE. 

The unit had support from an expert reference group, which included members of the Royal College of Nursing.

The framework document noted how a traditional way of tackling staff stress had been to “promote the idea of individual resilience” and that organisations had been “largely absolved” of the responsibility of supporting them. However, it called for this to change.

“It is clear there is a place for personal resilience and it is important to recognise that the nature of the work undertaken by the NHS does require large reserves of it,” the report said.

“However, organisations and indeed the wider system have a duty to support people who are doing very difficult jobs in challenging situations,” the document stated.

“In short, an organisation should maintain a culture and operate in such a way that the need for personal resilience is minimised as much as possible, allowing people to maintain the compassion and empathy that led them to choose careers in the health service,” it added.

“Shifting the focus away from individual resilience and encouraging system and organisational support is key”

Ian J Tegerdine

The report highlighted how “insufficient attention” had been paid to the affect that poor staff wellbeing could have on organisational success.

It concluded that employers had a “substantial role” to play in supporting the workforce to undertake “what is an inherently psychologically demanding role”.

Staff mental health impacted patient care, staff retention and the ability of the NHS to overcome the significant workforce challenges facing it, the document noted.

It highlighted how in 2017, 38% of NHS staff reported feeling unwell due to work-related stress, a rise of 1.3% from the previous year.

The cost of poor mental health in the NHS workforce was equated to be between £1,794 and £2,174 per employee per year.

Professor Lisa Bayliss-Pratt, chief nurse at HEE, said: “We must prioritise and improve the physical and mental health and wellbeing of our staff.

“Staff are our greatest resource – we need to support them to ensure they are the best they can be and provide high quality care,” she said. 

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Lisa Bayliss-Pratt

Professor Bayliss-Pratt added that the framework had been trialled and tested by NHS organisations and provided employers with practical and theoretical help to put in place support for stressed staff.

Ian J Tegerdine, associate director at the National Workforce Skills Development Unit, said: “We believe that shifting the focus away from individual resilience and encouraging more thought about system and organisational support is key to making positive change.”

The launch of the framework follows the publication of a major report by HEE into staff mental wellbeing.

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