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NHS ‘neglects’ staff health and wellbeing

Report reveals that some 38% of NHS staff have suffered work-related stress

Mark Gould

Monday, 16 March 2015

Fewer than two thirds of NHS trusts (65%) have a staff health and wellbeing plan in place according to a new report by the Royal College of Physicians (RCP).

Work and Wellbeing in the NHS: why staff health matters to patient care, reveals that high quality patient care relies on skilled staff who are not only physically and mentally well enough to do their jobs, but also feel valued, supported and engaged.

The report states that good staff health, wellbeing and engagement can reap significant benefits for patient safety including reduced MRSA infection rates and lower patient mortality rates.

The report reveals:

  • 700,000 NHS staff are currently overweight
  • Only 28% of NHS trusts in England reported that they have a plan or policy in place to help reduce obesity among staff
  • 38% of NHS staff in England report having suffered work-related stress
  • 57% of NHS trusts have a plan to policy to support the mental health of their staff
  • Staff often note a shortage of basic staff amenities including adequate working space, rest facilities or somewhere to buy food
  • Access and inequality is still an issue, with only 37% of outsourced staff having access to the same support services to tackle long-term sickness absence

In addition, patient satisfaction rates are higher and patient experience is better where an NHS workforce is engaged and healthier. Likewise, NHS organisations rated as having "poor" staff health and wellbeing were found on average to be among the 25% worst performers on measures of patient satisfaction. 

Staff health and wellbeing provision is therefore inextricably linked to high quality patient care and, at present, NHS organisations are regularly ignoring the compelling advantages of having a robust plan in place for their staff, putting patient care at risk.

The report highlights that organisations with higher levels of staff engagement have been found to have 13% lower staff turnover and significantly reduced sickness absence rates. Similarly, healthcare providers can reap over £9 in benefits for every £1 spent on staff health and wellbeing programmes.

The report cites a lack of national leadership, lack of empowerment within the NHS and mental health provision as areas for concern. Additionally, priority areas for action incorporate clinical leadership, managerial involvement and allowing staff to have more influence over their work.   

This issue has been scrutinised and discussed for the last 20 years with little meaningful change. Provision at present is patchy and in some areas incredibly poor, that is why action and leadership are needed now. Our healthcare system’s greatest asset is the people who deliver it and patients deserve a healthy and engaged workforce.

RCP clinical adviser on NHS workforce health, Dr Sian Williams, said: "Now that we have clear evidence that the health of NHS staff affects the quality of care that patients receive, it is time to move beyond short-term, one-off initiatives to help staff improve their health at work. Trusts must consider staff health in all that they do; this includes the design of buildings, the work environment, and the work itself. Most importantly it includes the way staff are managed.

“With only two thirds of trusts having a plan in place for the health and wellbeing of staff – and nearly 40% of staff reporting they have suffered work-related stress it is clear that we need action now.”

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