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Survey reveals NHS staff shortages, abuse and a fear of speaking out

Culture slow to change, warns BMA Scotland

Jo Carlowe

Thursday, 18 December 2014

Just one in three NHS employees in Scotland say there are enough staff to allow them to do their job property. 

The 2014 NHS Scotland Staff Survey revealed that 33% agreed there were enough staff - a slight improvement from 2013 where only 31% agreed with this statement. 

The National Report also revealed that almost half (46%) of staff strongly disagreed or disagreed with the statement: “Staff are always consulted about changes at work”. Moreover, 43% did not agree with the statement that they felt confident to ‘speak up’ and ‘challenge the way things are done’. 

On a more positive note, 90% of staff said they were “happy to go the extra mile” at work when required and 86% were clear about their duties and responsibilities. 

Commenting on the 2014 NHS Staff Survey, Dr Peter Bennie, chair of the BMA in Scotland, warned that staffing issues might impact the way services are run in the future. 

“That 90% of staff say they are ‘happy to go the extra mile’ is a credit to their focus on patients and commitment to the NHS. We know from our own members just how willing doctors are to go the extra mile, but with just one in three NHS staff (33%) saying that there are enough staff to allow them to do their job properly, it is likely this goodwill will be tested if action is not taken.”

“Despite a commitment to teamwork in the 2020 workforce vision, it is disappointing that some of the most negative responses in the survey relate to engagement and involvement of NHS staff. There is clearly much to be done to break down barriers between staff in management roles and those delivering healthcare so that all staff are able to influence decisions that affect them and as a result, the quality of care for patients.”

Dr Bennie expressed deep concern that one third (33%) of staff report that they had experienced emotional/verbal abuse from patients or other members of the public.  

“Staff in all grades in all areas of the NHS deserve to be treated with respect and it is vital that they are supported by managers and colleagues to try to reduce this type of behaviour during the course of their work.”

Moreover, he expressed disappointment at the lack of confidence that many staff feel in speaking freely.   

“Despite public statements by Government and the NHS that they are working to improve how NHS staff can raise concerns, it is disappointing that this does not seem to have delivered the cultural change that gives confidence to staff to speak out.  Forty three per cent of staff do not feel that it is safe to do so, and this reflects our own survey of members, where doctors feel that speaking out can hinder their career progression or expose them to bullying.” 

Commenting on the report, the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) Scotland Director Theresa Fyffe noted that figures had improved ‘in many areas’ compared to 2013.

However she added: “After years of cuts, the number of nurses and midwives working in our NHS is now going up, but so, too, is demand for services. We cannot continue to ask nurses to juggle all the demands they face trying to deal with more and more patients, without enough staff. Budgets are very tight and likely to become more so over the next years, so we must look at how we can do things differently if patient care is not to suffer and staff get to breaking point from pressure of work. We need a public debate about the sustainability of our NHS and how we can provide services, given our changing demographics and the inflationary pressures on NHS budgets as a result of new drugs and treatments and higher patient expectations. Without change, there is a danger that the improvements reported by staff this year may go into reverse.”

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