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Two-fifths of NHS staff ‘made ill by stress’ during pandemic

The proportion of NHS staff feeling unwell with stress has risen during the Covid-19 pandemic and more than a third are considering leaving their current organisation, an annual poll has shown.

The latest NHS staff survey, answered by 529,270 NHS employees in England between September and December 2020, found 44% of staff reported feeling unwell as a result of work-related stress in the past year – up from 40% in 2019 and following a steady increase 37% in 2016.

The proportion of staff considering leaving the health service was 18%, a slight drop from 20% in 2019, while 34% said they were considering leaving their organisation, slightly down  from 35% last year.

Nuffield Trust director of strategy Helen Buckingham warned that ‘these aren’t encouraging results to grow nursing numbers by 50,000, which is both a government promise and a frontline necessity’.    

She also picked our a ‘concerning’ finding that only 69% of ethnic minority staff said their organisation provided equal opportunities, compared to 87% of white staff. Of the 13% who reported discrimination at work, ethnic background was the most common reason, mentioned by 48%.

Although just 33% of staff said their trust took positive action on health and wellbeing, this was up from 29.3% in 2019. This remains highest in community trusts (42%). 

Other key findings include:

  • 82% of staff were satisfied with the quality of care they gave patients
  • 55% of staff were working additional unpaid hours every week
  • 14% of staff reported experiencing violence from patients.

The results come amid anger at the Government for suggesting a 1% rise for NHS staff in England on Agenda for Change contracts, with the RCN warning it can ‘expect backlash’ if the proposal goes ahead.

Referencing this suggested pay rise, NHS Confederation chief executive Danny Mortimer said: ‘There can be no room for complacency when the results also show that around a third of staff are considering leaving their jobs and nearly one in five are thinking of quitting the health service entirely.’

He also picked out the ‘continued poorer experience of ethnic minority staff’ as among the ‘significant areas of concern’.

RCN chief executive Dame Donna Kinnair said the results ‘should act as a stark reminder to ministers’ why 1% is ‘so disrespectful’, adding that ‘nursing staff are still being pushed to the edge to keep services running’.

She continued: ‘Rest and recuperation for health care staff must be central to decision making. Support for staff must also include psychological and physical support for all that need it.’

The survey does not cover primary care staff, but Nursing in Practice’s survey of practice nurses this month found a third were considering leaving their role.