NHS staff working in urgent and emergency care have been under ‘significant distress’ after feeling they could not help the sickest of patients.
The Health Services Safety Investigations Body (HSIB) published its third report today (27 February) on its investigation into staff wellbeing across emergency departments, NHS 111 call handling centres and ambulance services, revealing that many staff felt highly emotional when discussing their work environment.
During interviews with the HSIB, “many staff cried or displayed extreme emotion” when talking about their working environment, describing feelings of moral distress. Many also reported difficulties switching off from work when they got home, issues interacting with friends and family and even feelings of “isolation and despair” after particularly difficult days.
Staff facing continued challenges in getting patients the right sort of care could lead to a further deterioration in their wellbeing, the HSIB said.
The support offered by NHS organisations relied on staff seeking help, and many respondents to
HSIB’s research said this meant sometimes help came too late. There are also significant waiting lists for services such as counselling and funding cuts have negatively impacted staff mental health support services.
NHS staff wellbeing
Staff told the investigation that they would value the opportunity to speak openly, confidentially and within the safety of a facilitated discussion as this would be “cathartic”. Healthcare staff would also benefit from having the time and space for reflective practice, which could involve them coming together to talk about the emotional impact of their work.
A further criticism was that the NHS People Plan on recruitment and retention in the health service and the NHS Patient Strategy were not yet interlinked, despite staff wellbeing having a clear impact on patient safety.
Lead investigator Neil Alexander said: “This report reflects the in-depth conversations we have had with staff over the course of this investigation about the emotional impact of their work.
“They have shared with us the distress over delays and the harm that it is causing to patients and how this has affected their personal wellbeing. We heard words like ‘demoralising,’ ‘powerless’, ‘hurt’, ‘relentless’ during our interviews with them, and many expressed they are feeling the burden and experiencing moral injury.”
Alexander added that making the link between patient safety and staff wellbeing should be “captured at a national level”.
He said: We recognise that until there is a whole system response to the challenges in urgent care, staff will continue to face issues.
“However, in the shorter-term, staff and a health psychologist have told us that in these difficult times, it is important that they are given the time and space to engage in reflective practice and get support from people with expertise in staff wellbeing.”