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Nine out of 10 leaders in the English NHS are concerned about the long-term impact of the coronavirus pandemic on the wellbeing of their staff.
The finding is revealed in a new report published today by the NHS Confederation titled NHS Reset: A New Direction for Health and Care.
“This is a moment of truth for the government and its stewardship of the NHS”
Informed by the views of senior figures across the health sector, the report looks at how the needs and priorities of the NHS have changed due to Covid-19, and the extra investment required as a result.
In terms of workforce, the report warned that shortages that were paved over earlier in the pandemic by redeployment, new ways of working, and students, volunteers and returners stepping up, were “starting to show” again.
Meanwhile, a survey of more than 250 NHS chief executives, chairs and clinical leaders carried out as part of the analysis highlighted widespread concern about staff mental health as the crisis continues and a second spike looms.
When polled by the NHS Confederation this month, 90% of respondents who answered the question said they were worried about the long-term impact of the pandemic on the wellbeing of their staff.
It was also highlighted in the report how the disproportionate impact of Covid-19 experienced by Black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) communities was “mirrored in the impact” on BAME staff.
“Long-standing differences in treatment between BME staff and their white colleagues were thrown into stark and challenging focus by the virus and have shown how far the sector still needs to go to tackle workplace discrimination,” stated the report.
More widely, NHS leaders who gave their views for the report called for a reassessment of what the health service could deliver and the resources it needed to meet the challenges ahead.
They warned that going into the winter, the NHS faced a “triple whammy” of rising Covid-19 cases, a major backlog of treatment and reduced capacity due to infection control measures.
The report said it was “clear” that additional revenue and capital funding beyond what was agreed as part of the five-year funding settlement for the NHS in 2018 would be needed.
“Government must take action to address these issues, especially as we head into what is certain to be an extremely difficult winter”
It added that employers needed investment to ensure staff wellbeing “remains a central focus” and highlighted pay as a factor in this along with access to continuing professional development.
These national actions should be paired with local commitment to address inequality and descrimination in workplaces, said the report.
Support was also needed to ensure the NHS could “lock-in” positive changes and innovations that were implemented as part of the immediate response to the virus.
These included stripping back red tape and bureaucracy, accelerating steps to integrate health and social care, and sustained and funded action to tackle health inequalities.
Danny Mortimer, chief executive of the NHS Confederation, said: “This is a moment of truth for the government and its stewardship of the NHS.
“Either it embraces what we have learned in recent months and provides the support and investment the NHS and social care need to get back on track and reform for the long term.
“Or they continue with short-term fixes, bail-outs and ever increasing targets and regulation that continue to stifle NHS staff from ‘locking-in’ the changes that are essential if the health service is to manage the threat of the pandemic and emerge in a stronger position.”
Dame Donna Kinnair, chief executive and general secretary of the Royal College of Nursing, said the situation facing the NHS was “even tougher than it might have been” due to widespread nurse shortages.
On top of funding for a pay rise for nurses, Dame Donna said that measures to “properly care for nursing and other healthcare staff” were also needed.
She cited a recent survey of RCN members showing three-quarters of respondents were feeling more stressed since the pandemic, and nine in 10 were concerned about the wellbeing of those in the nursing profession generally.
“Government must take action to address these issues, especially as we head into what is certain to be an extremely difficult winter,” warned Dame Donna.
The calls for action around nurse wellbeing reflect those made as part of the Nursing Times Covid-19: Are You OK? campaign launched at the start of the pandemic.
Meanwhile, Sara Gorton, head of health of the union Unison, said an early and significant pay rise for NHS staff would “quite simply make the world of difference”.
“There’s no time for dither or delay,” she added. “The stakes are too high and the challenges too great for anything less than decisive government action now.”
In response to the report, a spokesperson for the Department of Health and Social Care said it would “continue to provide the NHS with the funding it needs”.
“We are committed to supporting the NHS to respond to the pandemic and safely restore services,” they added.
Referencing a consultation that ran between July and September, the spokesperson said: “We’ve asked health and care staff for their views on changes seen during the pandemic which should be continued, and where unnecessary bureaucracy can be cut, so they can focus on providing safe, high quality care.”