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Employers must embed mental wellbeing in a supportive culture

Many doctors face long periods of sick leave because of mental illness, or even have to resign, retire or retrain

Louise Prime

Friday, 11 October 2019

Employers must do more to protect the mental health of staff, the British Medical Association (BMA) has demanded. It is calling for staff wellbeing to be embedded into the organisational culture, for an end to stigma around mental health problems and for spaces where staff may rest and socialise.

BMA research earlier this year showed that eight out of 10 doctors are at substantial risk of burnout and four in 10 were experiencing symptoms of depression, anxiety, burnout, stress, or a mental health condition.

Now its latest report* has revealed that because there is often little or no support in the workplace, many doctors are left facing long periods of sick leave because of mental illness, or even – in the most severe cases – they are forced to resign, retire or retrain. So, it is asking employers to sign up to its BMA mental wellbeing Charter, in which it sets out the important practical steps that it wants them to take including:

  • develop a staff wellbeing strategy that is embedded in a supportive culture
  • create healthy workplaces
  • provide spaces for staff to rest and socialise and encourage staff to take breaks
  • tackle the stigma around mental ill-health and encourage staff to seek help if needed
  • better support managers in identifying signs and symptoms of poor mental health in staff
  • foster peer support
  • ensure support services are accessible and of high quality
  • ensure services have the confidence of those they are intended to help.

BMA junior doctor committee chair Dr Sarah Hallett commented: “Doctors across the NHS are working in an increasingly pressured environment, in a service that has seen systemic underfunding year upon year. It is unsurprising that working in such difficult conditions takes a significant toll.

“Four in 10 respondents to the BMA’s survey on the mental health of the medical workforce last year reported some form of mental health condition. It was sobering to discover that 90% of those affected felt that their work environment had contributed to this.

“Doctors accept that their role will at times be challenging and emotionally demanding; this is the nature of our jobs. But when those entrusted to delivering care for patients need care themselves due in part to their workplace pressures, we have a problem.

“By adopting the steps in this Charter, employers can begin to make the necessary improvements for their staff.”

Professor Dinesh Bhugra CBE, emeritus professor of mental health and cultural diversity at King’s College London, who led a BMA project on medical students’ and doctors’ mental health and wellbeing as previous BMA president, added: “Staff are the most important asset to the NHS and making these vital improvements will not only improve the lives of doctors and staff, but also act as an investment in the future of our health service.”

But he went on: “While employers have a practical role to play in improving the situation for staff, they cannot go it alone. The government must provide the right investment and resources to address wider systemic pressures, decrease the pressure on the medical profession, and ensure that trusts are able to provide adequate support for those who are struggling.”

*Mental health & wellbeing in the medical professional. A report prepared by the British Medical Association, October 2019.

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