Top NHS trust ordered to take action to cut staff stress

The
Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has taken unprecedented action against an NHS
trust by ordering it to reduce the levels of stress faced by staff.

The
HSE has issued an enforcement notice against the top-performing West Dorset
Hospitals NHS Trust, which has three stars and is in line to achieve foundation
status.

The
‘improvement order’, the first of its kind issued against any big employer in
the UK, followed a written complaint from a former employee that led to an
investigation by the HSE.

The
trust has been given until 15 December 2003 to reduce the stress its staff are
under or face legal action under the Health and Safety at Work Act, with the
potential consequence of unlimited fines.

The
trust’s director of service development, Elaine Mead, said the trust would be
taking action.

"We
recognise that a busy hospital can be a very stressful environment for staff in
some area and we are committed to doing everything we can to reduce factors
which lead to work-related stress. This is a priority for the Government and
also for this trust and we are confident we will be able to comply with this
improvement notice.

"We
will build on our existing plan to improve working lives which will result in a
better working environment for staff," she said.

Ian
Ducat, south west regional secretary for health workers union Unison, said the
HSE’s action was unprecedented.

"It
is not unusual for the HSE to highlight problems among small and specific
groups of staff, but for such a broad warning, applying to all staff, to be
issued to an employer is unique,” he said.

"More
importantly, the HSE has clearly said that the management at West Dorset appear
to be doing nothing about it.

"I
suspect that the HSE’s revelation does not mean that this an isolated case.
This may be a shot across the bows for many employers in the NHS who are
running services with inadequate staff for the demands,” he added.

By Ben Willmott

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