Staff burnout could derail the current NHS efficiency drive and any political moves to make it a seven-day service, a think-tank has warned.
The Nuffield Trust said plans for a £22bn savings drive and seven-day working by 2020 will not be realised unless the NHS reconnects with staff and develops their skills to better meet changing patient needs.
“There are not enough staff to fill gaps in key areas, and we are seeing clear signs of stress and disengagement”
In a new briefing document, published today, the think-tank highlighted the growing trend of hospitals relying on agency staff, problems recruiting and retaining GPs and a rise in staff sick leave due to stress.
The Nuffield Trust report – Health and social care priorities for the Government: 2015-20 – argued that these factors, together with the continued effects of holding down staff pay, suggested that disengagement and burnout could hamper progress at a time of immense pressure on the NHS.
The warning comes shortly after official figures showed NHS spending on agency workers soaring by 31% in just one year, largely accounting for an £800m hole in hospital and community service finances.
Nuffield Trust chief executive Nigel Edwards said: “The NHS needs to hit very ambitious efficiency targets, at the same time as fundamentally changing the way care is delivered and moving to a seven-day service.
“That can only be done if it has the right staff in the right places,” he said. “Yet there are not enough staff to fill gaps in key areas, and we are seeing clear signs of stress and disengagement.
Mr Edwards added that the health service had already been “thrown off course by the massive bill for agency staffing”, because it cannot get enough permanent nurses to join hospital trusts.
“Solving these problems doesn’t just mean pledging more doctors and nurses,” he said. “We need to use those we have more intelligently, so that they’re more ready to deal with the growing number of older people with very complicated health issues.”
Unite head of health Barrie Brown said: “It is quite right that the Nuffield Trust has highlighted the scandal of accelerating expenditure on agency staff, which has jumped by 31% in just one year.”
Meanwhile, the government has outlined a package of measures today designed to “clampdown on rip-off staffing agencies”.
It follows comments made over the weekend about the spiralling cost of agency staff by NHS England chief executive Simon Stevens.