Only three out of 10 (29.3%) NHS staff say their trust takes positive action on health and wellbeing, with many reporting musculoskeletal problems and work-related stress.
More than half (56.6%) of the employees that responded to the 2019 NHS Staff Survey said they had gone to work in the past three months despite not feeling well enough.
Health and wellbeing of NHS staff
This was similar to the proportion who answered the same in 2018 (56.5%) and 2017 (56.6%), which suggests the NHS has made no progress in tackling presenteeism.
Although there were signs that NHS trusts were “definitely” taking positive action on health and wellbeing (29.3% of staff agreed with this statement, compared with 28.6% in 2018), staff were far less confident about what they were doing to promote employee health than they were between 2015 and 2017, the survey found.
Almost three in 10 (28%) of the 569,440 staff who responded said they had experienced musculoskeletal problems in the past year because of their work.
Work-related stress was also an issue, with 40.3% of respondents stating they had felt unwell as a result of work stressors in the past 12 months. This proportion has been steadily increasing since 2016, when 36.8% said the same.
Only 73.8% of staff with a long-term health condition or disability felt the NHS had made suitable adjustments to enable them to carry out their work, and 78.4% of these employees felt their employer provided equal opportunities, compared with 85.3% of non-disabled staff.
Sue Covill, director of development and employment at NHS Employers said: “We are pleased to see there have been some improvements in the results, but much more remains to be done. Staff across the health service are working under immense pressure, and this is reflected in the high percentage of those who reported suffering work-related stress. Too many staff also report facing violence, bullying and harassment.”
NHS Providers’ deputy chief executive, Saffron Cordery, said it was worrying to see that more staff were feeling unwell because of stress, despite the fact that fewer people were thinking of leaving the NHS.
“The proportion of staff facing unrealistic time pressures in their jobs remains far too high,” said Cordery. “Government and the national bodies must also play their part in creating the conditions in which trusts and their staff can thrive. Organisational culture is clearly improving, but more support is needed to improve recruitment and retention with 100,000 workforce vacancies across the NHS.”
Physical violence from patients and service users was also an issue for 14.9% of staff in 2019, compared with 14.6% in 2018. Some staff had even experienced violence from managers (0.6%) and from colleagues (1.5%).
Health secretary Matt Hancock has written to all NHS staff, telling them that “being assaulted or abused is not part of the job”.
Dr Helena McKeown, a BMA chief officer, said: “While rising workloads and under-staffed working environments can lead to long waiting times and frustrations for patients and their loved ones, there is absolutely no excuse for this to be taken out on dedicated staff, who only want the best for their patients.
“Violence and abuse have a hugely detrimental impact on both the physical and mental health of staff – and this in turn can make pressures worse, as over-stretched hospitals and other providers have to deal with – and pay for – sickness absence.”
Fewer than six in 10 (59.5%) staff said they always or often looked forward to going to work.