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MPs: Healthcare worker burnout at ‘emergency level’

stress nurse


Only a ‘total overhaul’ of workforce planning can solve the ‘emergency level’ of burnout among healthcare workers across the NHS and social care, and ensure the Covid backlog is cleared, MPs have warned.  

The health and social committee report, released today, named poor workforce planning and staff shortages as the biggest driver of workforce burnout and the ‘unacceptable pressure on staff’, as part of an inquiry into burnout and resilience in the NHS and social care.  

Committee chair Jeremy Hunt said burnout among healthcare workers ‘now presents an extraordinarily dangerous risk to the future functioning of both health and social care‘, adding that ‘it will simply not be possible to address the backlog caused by the pandemic unless these issues are addressed’.

He continued: ‘An absence of proper, detailed workforce planning has contributed to this, and was exposed by the pandemic with its many demands on staff.’

Without a ‘complete overhaul’ of workforce planning, he said burnout will worsen and more money will have to be spent on agency nurses and locum doctors. 

The report also found that workforce planning revolves around the funding levels, instead of being based on the level of demand and the staffing capacity needed to deliver services. It also criticised workforce projections for not covering social care.  

Although it praised NHS England’s People Plan’s ‘laudable aspirations’ around improving staff wellbeing, such as more flexible working, it warned delivery will depend on adequate funding.  

MPs noted that further detail on workforce planning had been expected after last year’s autumn spending review but it had not been provided. 

Excessive workload is a ‘key predictor’ of staff stress and their intention to quit, patient dissatisfaction and staff errors, the report also found.  

Other recommendations outlined in the report include that:  

  • Health Education England publish objective, transparent and independently audited annual reports on workforce projections covering next five, 10 and 20 years, including assessment of whether sufficient numbers are being trained. 
  • Department for Health and Social Care should produce a People Plan for social care as a priority, aligned to the ambitions set out in the NHS People Plan.  
  • Level of resources allocated to mental health support for health and care staff should be maintained as and when the NHS and social care return to ‘business as usual’ after the pandemic. 
  • NHS England should review the role of targets across the NHS and ensure they do not inadvertently create a culture which deprioritises care of staff and patients. 

This comes after a poll last month found seven in 10 members of the public think there are too few nurses to deliver safe care, while some are scared their loved ones may not get the care they need.  

The NHS staff survey in March this year found two-fifths of NHS staff have been ‘made ill by stress’ during the pandemic. The survey did not cover primary care staff, but Nursing in Practice’s survey of practice nurses in the same month found a third were considering leaving their role

Nurses across the community and primary care told Nursing in Practice in October last year that workloads on top of staff shortages have put their mental health under unprecedented strain.