The NHS is bad for your health… but only if you work there

The
results of the first national NHS staff survey have confirmed what many have
long suspected: working in healthcare can be harmful to your well-being. But as
DeeDee Doke reports, that does not necessarily mean staff want to leave

The
results of last month’s survey of NHS staff by the Commission for Health
Improvement (CHI) – believed to be the largest workforce survey in the world –
found that more than a third of respondents had experienced harassment,
bullying or abuse in the past year.

Around
15 per cent reported experiencing physical violence in that same period, while
stress was also regarded as a major problem for many NHS staff, with 39 per
cent saying they had suffered from work-related stress and 49 per cent
reporting that they felt ‘under some pressure’ at work.

However,
the news was not all bad. Nearly three-quarters of the respondents said they
were generally satisfied with their jobs, and 52 percent reported that they
would want to stay in the NHS if they left their current role.

Nearly
204,000 NHS employees in 572 trusts – or about 56 per cent of the eligible
staff – responded to the CHI survey. All types of NHS trust took part,
including acute, ambulance, care trusts, mental health, and specialists.
However, staff providing NHS care such as GPs and their staff did not
participate since the survey was aimed only at NHS employees.

Many
of the findings came as no surprise, but the survey itself may not have gone
far enough, according to Chris Taylor, head of the Health Services Unit at the
Health & Safety Executive (HSE).

“I
don’t think that type of survey tells you enough information to know whether
things are getting better or worse, because they don’t go into enough detail,”
he said.

However,
he added: “It certainly confirms there are major problems in terms of
occupational health and safety in healthcare, and that the NHS is making
progress – but it’s got a long way to go.”

Taylor
said that while the NHS may be improving in some areas such as patient handling
and in reducing the number of staff musculoskeletal injuries “we don’t know
enough information yet about stress and violence. If anything, it’s getting
worse. That’s largely because of the increasingly violent environment the NHS
finds itself working in”.

Bullying
and harassment by other staff are not usually dealt with as health and safety
issues, but Taylor acknowledges that such problems can lead to mental health
problems.

The
HSE’s approach here will be a generic attack on work-related stress. “It’s a
difficult area. We’ve been trying to work with the NHS on looking at it from a
human resources, ‘good business’ argument. You can’t run an efficient NHS if
your staff are off sick or if they feel that they’re bullied or harassed,”
Taylor said.

Some
statistics suggest that mental ill health may be the cause of near to 40 per
cent of NHS sickness absence – roughly equal to that caused by musculoskeletal
problems, Taylor added.

However,
the HSE is now working with a variety of agencies, from the Counter Fraud and
Security Management Service to the National Patient Safety Agency and NHS
Estates, to improve health and safety conditions for staff and patients.

Among
the initiatives are programmes to train staff in managing violence and
aggression, to help design safer hospitals and to better manage work-related
stress in healthcare.

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