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Senior leaders in NHS trusts have flagged serious concerns about the wellbeing of staff following the first wave of Covid-19, with 99% worried about the current levels of burnout across the workforce, a new survey has found.
The survey was conducted by NHS Providers and gained the views of 199 executive directors, including some directors of nursing, from 140 different NHS trusts, accounting for 65% of the provider sector in England.
“The worry is that the sustained physical, psychological and emotional pressure on health staff is threatening to push them beyond their limits”
In a report published today, respondents to the survey warned of “perfect storm” of workforce shortages, staff burnout, and increasing workload ahead as the pandemic continued.
Almost all leaders (99%) reported being either extremely or moderately concerned about the levels of staff burnout they were seeing.
One director of nursing at a mental health and learning disability trust quoted in the report flagged that nurses and their colleagues had been working in “high stress circumstances” with long hours and without leave.
Despite “wellbeing offers” that were available for staff, the director of nursing warned that levels of burnout were a “real concern”.
In addition, 94% of leaders said they were extremely or moderately concerned about the impact of seasonal pressures during winter on the trust and local area.
One chief executive of an acute trust said: “We have a perfect storm on the horizon; depleted staff, depleted capacity, increasing workload.”
Meanwhile, 56% of leaders were worried that plans from the government and its arms-length bodies, including NHS England and NHS Improvement, were not effectively supporting the delivery of a sustainable service.
Combined acute and community trusts were the most likely to be concerned about this.
On the whole, only 11% of trust leaders claimed they were confident in the activities from national leadership.
The survey, which was open during August, also revealed that 83% of trust leaders were worried that sufficient investment was not being made into social care in their local area.
This was a particular concern for executives in mental health and learning disability trusts.
However, the survey also showed confidence from leaders in their services, with 68% judging the quality of healthcare being provided in their area as high or very high.
Meanwhile, 92% reported that collaboration and partnership working in local systems had “accelerated” during the pandemic.
Responding to the findings, chief executive of NHS Providers, Chris Hopson, said the results laid bare how concerned trust leaders were for the workforce.
“Month after month NHS staff have been going the extra mile to care for patients, often in intolerable conditions,” he said. “But as this survey makes clear, they’re now running out of road.”
There had been “no let-up in the pressure” faced by staff and many were exhausted and some traumatised, said Mr Hopson.
“While levels of stress show little sign of decreasing, concerns about staffing levels are only going up”
Dame Donna Kinnair
With a “new surge in Covid-19, looming winter pressures, and continuing severe staff shortages, it’s clear from our survey that trust leaders are deeply concerned for their workforce”, he added.
“The worry is that the sustained physical, psychological and emotional pressure on health staff is threatening to push them beyond their limits of endurance.”
Meanwhile, Dame Donna Kinnair, chief executive and general secretary of the Royal College of Nursing, raised concerns about staffing levels across the profession, with an estimated 50,000 nurse vacancies in the UK.
“Nursing staff are feeling pressures like never before, concerned for their own wellbeing as well as their patients,” she said.
“While levels of stress show little sign of decreasing, concerns about staffing levels are only going up.”
Dame Donna urged government to “act now to deliver the nursing staff needed”.
She also reiterated calls for an “early, meaningful” pay rise for nursing staff to help retain those in the profession.
In response to the findings, a Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “Supporting the mental health and wellbeing of NHS staff is a top priority, particularly during this unprecedented pandemic.”
They pointed to the recently published NHS People Plan, which they said “places wellbeing at its heart” and “includes practical support like more rest and recuperation spaces” for staff.
They also highlighted the government’s commitment to deliver 50,000 more nurses by the end of this Parliament, and the extra funding given to the NHS to help prepare the NHS for the winter.
At the start of the pandemic, Nursing Times launched a new campaign – Covid-19: Are You OK? – to highlight the mental health pressures and needs of nurses during and after the coronavirus pandemic.