SoR welcomes 'brutally honest' report on NHS staff burnout by MPs

Health Select Committee makes five key demands to improve life for healthcare workers

Published: 14 June 2021 Government & NHS

The SoR was one of many unions, professional associations, charities and other interested groups who last summer submitted evidence to the Health Select Committee investigation into burnout of NHS staff, resulting from Covid-19.

We now welcome the published findings, which you can read in the report: Workforce burnout and resilience in the NHS and social care 

Dean Rogers, the SoR Director of Industrial Strategy & Member Relations described the MPs’ report as ‘Brutally honest, highly critical and long overdue’. He added: ‘Most importantly, the report makes just five recommendations which must be fully accepted by Government and which they must be judged against’.

The recommendations prioritise workforce planning, integrating social care and NHS staffing strategies; and building upon additional support to protect the mental health of staff provided during the pandemic. The report says the NHS People Plan must be fully costed and resourced, as well as extended for social care staff. Health Education England should publish independently audited medium and longer-term workforce planning data, to support a co-ordinated workforce strategy. Finally, operational targets must be reviewed to “avoid the risk that targets inadvertently create a culture that does not prioritise the care of staff and patients”.’

Excessive workload before pandemic

The report identifies how chronic excessive workload was a clear problem before the pandemic but has worsened, with 44% of respondents to the 2020 NHS Staff Survey reporting feeling unwell as a result of workplace stress in the previous 12 months. It further recognises burnout directly impacts on patient outcomes but burnout cannot be tackled ‘until the service has the right numbers of people, with the right mix of skills’, accepting the Health Foundation evidence that there are 115,000 FTE vacancies currently, a figure set to double over the next five years, and rise to more than 475,000 by 2033-34.

Radiography is at the centre of this predicted growth. Last year’s Richards Report into diagnostic radiography made similar demands for extra long-term strategic investment in growing both staffing levels and equipment, warning that a failure to do so would make meeting any of the Government’s health targets impossible.

The Select Committee also amplify that ‘staff from Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic groups have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic in a way that has shone a light on deeply worrying divisions in society’. Importantly, it highlights compassionate leadership as being in short supply, and also at risk of burnout and accountability gaps in the NHS especially contributing the discriminatory outcomes for staff and patients.

Therefore, targets must be reviewed and protecting and supporting staff to better protect patients must be the priority. Dean Rogers continues: ‘This is a massively important and timely demand from the Select Committee, chaired by Jeremy Hunt and with a majority drawn from the Government’s own ranks. It is now over to Rishi Sunak and the Autumn Comprehensive Spending Review to see if the Cabinet are listening.

Long term investment needed now

‘We, along with other unions, charities and anyone with an active interest in a sustainable health care system, will be lobbying Government and making sure it doesn’t fall short. To date there has been a worrying silence on post-pandemic investment – for example, around the necessary resources identified in the Richards Report. But this report is helpful in illustrating the stark choice – commit the investment needed now and for the next decade or stop pretending the NHS is a national priority.

‘Alongside this, they must take measures by strengthening the Health Bill for example, to improve accountability around equality and so systems work together strategically to address workforce pressures.

‘All of these things are easier to say than do, as Jeremy Hunt presumably recognises, and we need actions not words. However, it is important you still start by saying what needs to be said and this report reflects a consensus that investment in the NHS and social care is the national priority as we come out of the pandemic. The report passes accountability to the Treasury and the Cabinet. We can all get ready to measure words against actions.’