The health service could see an exodus of staff unless leaders are given the tools and resources needed to support their wellbeing, the organisation that represents NHS employers has said.
The NHS Confederation has warned the government that it needs to focus on addressing long-standing vacancies, workload pressures and wellbeing concerns as the pandemic subsides.
Working in the NHS
It currently has almost 90,000 vacancies, and numerous organisations have warned that this number could grow if the right support mechanisms are not put in place.
Last week the Intensive Care Society suggested that a significant proportion of the intensive care workforce could leave if staff do not receive the mental health support they need, while unions and professional bodies have warned that the 1% pay rise proposed by ministers will do little to prevent an exodus after the pandemic.
The NHS staff survey revealed that four in 10 staff felt unwell because of work-related stress.
NHS Confederation chief executive Danny Mortimer said: “The people who work in the NHS are at its heart, and we must acknowledge that they have experienced a year like no other. We know that many staff will have been traumatised by what they have seen and experienced in recent months.
“There will be a temptation – not least amongst the teams themselves – to dive straight into tackling the waiting list for care that has ballooned to 4.6 million. But NHS leaders are clear that the NHS cannot bounce back without first giving NHS staff the time, space and support they need to properly recover. If we don’t look after them, then we cannot hope to look after patients.”
The organisation recommended a series of actions that need to be taken by the government:
- Enabling staff to rest and recover, by allowing NHS organisations to deploy tailored, local approaches to allowing staff to take their leave while managing ongoing demand.
- Continuing national investment in the health and wellbeing of staff, including wellbeing hubs and the rollout of health interventions. Many nationally funded initiatives are due to come to an end in late March.
- Introducing a sustainable, funded and modern total reward package. It said the proposed 1% pay increase risks demoralising workers, who may decide to leave.
- Improving the employee experience by providing high-quality places for them to rest, eat and hydrate; ensuring they take breaks; and giving them more control and autonomy over their work.
- Tackling vacancies and meeting the government’s commitment to recruit 50,000 nurses by the end of this parliament by introducing a fully-funded long term workforce plan and addressing the pressures staff are under.