Safety put at risk by staff burnout in health and social care

Safety put at risk by staff burnout in health and social care

NHS and care staff in England are so burnt out that it has become an “emergency” and risks the future of the health service, MPs have warned.

A highly critical report said workers were exhausted and overstretched because of staff shortages. It said the problems existed before the pandemic – although coronavirus has worsened the pressures.

It has already been well documented that the NHS is short of staff and the report said one of the main problems was that there was no accurate forecast of how many staff the NHS needed for the next five to 10 years – something it called “workforce planning”. It said there needed to be a “total overhaul of the way the NHS does workforce planning” – and there should be annual reports published on how many workers the NHS would need for the next five, 10 and 20 years. 

“It is clear that workforce planning has been led by the funding envelope available to health and social care rather than by demand and the capacity required to service that demand,” and NHS workers needed to know there was a solution on its way to fix the staff shortages.

92% of trusts told NHS Providers they had concerns about staff wellbeing, stress and burnout following the pandemic. The Health and Social Care Committee published an in-depth report on 8th June 2021 which claims that staff become so stressed by the demands of their jobs and working conditions that they end up taking sick leave or leaving the profession altogether.

Vacancies in the health and social care sectors are already high and appear to be increasing according to the report. Low staffing levels were identified as causing safety issues with current staff suffering from fatigue, exhaustion and a general feeling of being “burnt out”.

Jeremy Hunt MP, who chairs the Select Committee said, “workforce burnout across the NHS and care systems now presents an extraordinarily dangerous risk to the proper functioning of both services,” and that “staff face unacceptable pressure with chronic excessive workload identified as a key driver of workforce burnout.”

Prior to the pandemic the Committee heard that there were an estimated 85,000 vacancies in the NHS in England and 112,000 unfilled posts in social care. These numbers are likely to have worsened in the period since. The impact this has on existing staff leads to issues such as: poorer-quality care, higher patient dissatisfaction with their care and higher numbers of patients dying in acute settings, as well as high staff turnover.

The MPs recommend that the DHSC starts to publish an annual audit setting out the workforce needs of health and social care for the next five, 10 and 20 years. The full Committee report is attached and can be accessed here.

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