New research finds rising NHS burnout: ‘It doesn’t have to be like this,’ says SoR

Research by the University of Bath echoes SoR’s findings on workplace experience, prompting calls for a fresh approach and new culture

Published: 30 April 2024 Government & NHS

The University of Bath Institute for Policy Research has found nearly a third of NHS staff are requesting details of jobs outside the NHS, reflecting SoR workforce experience surveys.

Just under a third (29 per cent) of NHS staff have recently inquired about jobs outside the NHS, and nearly half (47 per cent) of NHS frontline staff have done so, according to the study. 

The report,'Should I stay or should I go? Monitoring influences on NHS staff retention in the post-COVID-19 world,' identifies psychological stress, workload, staff shortages and pay as the top four reasons why staff leave the NHS. Researchers surveyed 1,500 NHS worker through a YouGov panel to compile the results. 

'Particularly perturbing'

The lead researcher, Dr Andrew Weyman, said: "Rising reports of shortages of resources, psychological stress, symptoms of burnout, coupled with low confidence of improvement to working condition, in the context of dissatisfaction with pay and evidence of weakening staff commitment to the NHS are particularly perturbing and potentially offer an explanation for the significant fall in the proportion of staff who would recommend working for the NHS to others."

Other key findings from the report included:

  • Reports of symptoms of burnout show a rising trend, with 1:2 reporting ‘feeling very tired or drained’ most days or every day.
  • Ratings of intrinsic job satisfaction (caring for patients) and personal commitment to the NHS have weakened year-on-year since 2020.
  • Staff confidence over improvement to working conditions and their future in the NHS were low, and for the majority of issues, notably workload and staffing and resources, more negative than in summer 2022.
  • Only 1:4 NHS nurses would recommend working for the NHS to others.

Dean Rogers, director of industrial strategy and member relations at the SoR, explained these findings echoed the Society’s Workplace Experience Survey in 2023 and the recent NHS Staff Survey.

The SoR found in its Workforce Experience Survey that the independent sector was safer, better paid, more flexible and less pressured, and many cited better access to professional development as their reasoning for entering the private sector.

'For many, leaving is the only healthy option'

Mr Rogers said: “We are not condemning anyone who left to go to the independent sector. The way staff are treated in the NHS too often falls below expectations in any credible, safe modern workplace. For many, leaving is the only healthy option. It doesn’t have to be like this though, and our Manifesto maps how some of these vicious cycles can be stopped.”

The SoR Manifesto was launched at an event held at Parliament on Tuesday 5 March, offering “practical, realistic and positive solutions” to the workforce crisis in the NHS and outlining the “critical interventions” necessary to stabilise and rebuild the service.

Importantly, radiographers play a central role in this rebuilding – this manifesto hopes in part to help MPs and decision-makers understand the depths of the workforce crisis afflicting radiography departments, and how it can be solved.

Underinvested and unsustainable

Mr Rogers added: “The pressures reflected in all these reports have two roots – long term under-investment in staffing, especially evident across radiography and medical imaging because increased investment has fallen a long way short of known increases in demand continuously since 2010. 

“At the same time, expectations and demands on staff increase regardless of knowing demands are unrealistic. Staff consistently report being under unsustainable pressure, fuelling their sense of being undervalued, and are demoralised by not being able to offer the standards of care for patients that they want to and are trained to provide.”

Mr Rogers called for the next government to seek a fresh approach and a new culture across the NHS.

“It starts with accepting the problems, finding the resources to deliver better for staff and patients, and committing to genuine partnership and working with professionals through the SoR, other unions, and professional associations,” he said. “We will work with any government serious about trying to do so.”

(Image: izusek via GettyImages)