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Stress takes its toll on NHS Direct nurses


Stress is by far the most common cause of long-term absence among staff at NHS Direct.

Papers for the trust’s latest board meeting show that stress and anxiety accounted for 19 of the trust’s 85 recorded long-term sickness cases as of 28 February.

The second most prevalent cause was musculo-skeletal conditions, with nine cases, and the third was surgery, with eight.

However, the total of 85 was a reduction on January’s figure of 100, and the 122 cases recorded in December 2010.

“The churn of long-term sickness cases remains high”, the board papers note.

The documents add that 39 cases of long-term sickness absence were resolved during February. Of these, seven “resigned or were dismissed,” and 32 returned to work. However, 26 new cases were reported last month.

A key performance indicator for the trust is to reduce the long-term sickness rate to under 50 by 31 March.

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Readers' comments (6)

  • I'm not surprised, isn't this the case right across the board for Nurses in this country? I can completely understand why.

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  • isn't that the call centre job, not nursing.
    if they want nurses to do this then they should provide adequate, safe and ergonomic working conditions with shorter shifts - but what an inhumane 'job' for staff and for those who consult them.

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  • I agree Mike it is an issue across the profession. NHSD however is a special kind of environment to work in though. The observation and audit are minute by minute every day, targets are unrelenting and non-negotiable which if you don't hit you are put on retraining in order to meet them regardless of the nature of the calls taken or your professional evaluation of the situations you meet. You are required to log every minute of your shift in terms of where you are, what you're doing and if you need to answer the call of nature.
    On the wards etc is ridiculously busy but there isn't someone literally on shoulder watching, measuring, criticising and marking you.
    Needless to say I only bore it, for various reasons, for a limited time!!

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  • I agree it is a very different environment to the wards (and incidentally not one I would like to work in), just as community is different from ward based Nursing, etc. We all have slightly differing jobs with unique demands, but I think that across the board the stress levels amongst Nursing are too high and something needs to be done about that before we have no Nurse left through illness, burnout or simply jumping ship.

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  • I would concur with anonymous of 30/03/11 that it is more the nature of a call centre job than the nursing role that results in staff sickness due to stress.

    having worked for over 7 years in a government call centre I have first hand experience of the nature of call centre work and can vouch for the fact that it is insanely stressful in many different regards - while I never personally took sick absence due to stress, it is ironic that I left that employment to become a nurse (2nd year student ATM) - which, while it's no walk in the park, is definitely less stressful than what I used to do.

    generally speaking, stress factors within such work environments are well known;

    - unrealistic/unachievable targets (at least not without compromising the ability to listen to the customer, analyse the query, problem solve & give advice effectively).

    -unpleasant work environments (inability to move away from your work station, poor ergonomics, harsh lighting and if hot-desking (no fixed workstation from day-to-day) has been implemented - poor cleanliness / hygiene in the work area, e.g. sticky keyboards, etc).

    -lack of socialisation (generally the nature of the job means you cannot really have a chat with your colleagues, or indeed, the client - even if it's just a few words exchanged about the weather - the personal aspect is everything in nursing and it's completely frowned upon in the callcentre environment)

    Some of these factors may not apply at NHS Direct but then there are plenty of other factors I haven't even mentioned because I could stand on my soapbox all day when it comes to the perils of working in a callcentre! don't get me wrong, there can be benefits but for me personally I'd much rather take my chances on a ward, all credit where it's due to the hard working people at NHS Direct.

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  • Interesting and worrying descriptions on call centres, and the potential stress-related damage to health in:
    'Psychology at Work. Ed. Peter Warr
    5th Edition, Penguin
    I think this is a good read for any nurses to help them better understand the employer-employee relationship, what is required by the modern-day labour market which also gives insight into many of the difficulties felt by employees. There is an interesting chapt. on circadian rhythms and night duty. It is a general book and not specifically for nurses but all very relevant. Topics such as teamwork and job stress and burnout are also considered. I cannot comment further as I am only on chapt. 5 which is on job analysis and the assessment and selection of personnel, which is also very interesting.

    I found the course I did on organisational behaviour also fascinating and leads to further understanding on human relations and what makes organisations and those in them tick.

    I will try and remember all I have learned so far, next time I get impatient with a frustrating call centre. Last one I called was for my laptop and was bumped around between Switzerland, Northern Germany, where I offended them by saying I couldn't understand their dialect and was very coldly informed that they did not speak dialect (Platdeutsch) which prevented any further communication, Brussels and then this week I have been called back by the same company from Egypt where I also had difficulties understanding their English, not helped by the poor quality of this long distant phone call. Call centres in India are also problematic and frustrating with their different regional accents.

    I declined a job as a nurse in an insurance company call centre as I couldn't envisage sitting still for long periods. the inertia would have lead to drowsiness and demotivation, and I am not somebody who can accept every action being monitored and controlled. I am used to professional autonomy.

    Wards suit me well where one is free to move around all day long, use one's own initiative, and with plenty of interesting variety and no time for boredom.

    an amusing little anecdote with a utilities call centre. As I live abroad and have a house in the uk with utilities I do not fall neatly into one of their little boxes so I often have to ring up with queries. One day I was arguing for about twenty minutes and realised we were getting nowhere except round in circles. I suggested to the operator, perhaps not too politely, who was totally unable to see my point of view that a little lateral thinking might be helpful. To my amazement, she replied 'oh, we don't do that here. They do that higher up'. I was unable to hear from her tone of voice whether she was being funny or she really did not understand what I meant!

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