When it was born on July 5, 1948, the NHS was the first completely free healthcare service in the world based on citizenship. Fast-forward to today and the NHS employs around 1.4 million people across the UK.
But while the doctors, nurses and other healthcare professionals who work in the NHS provide vital health services and much-needed support, what happens when they need support themselves?
Unfortunately, the final report from the NHS Staff and Learners’ Mental Wellbeing Commission, led by HEE, has highlighted that one in three NHS staff have felt unwell due to work-related stress. Furthermore, around half of NHS employees have gone in to work despite feeling unwell, because they felt pressure from their manager, colleagues or themselves.
The report says that NHS staff do not often talk about their mental health with family and friends, choosing instead to hide how they are feeling. Moreover, it says that increased pressure has led to a growing number of NHS staff – particularly female nurses – taking their own lives.
The HEE report makes a number of recommendations (32 in total) for improving the mental wellbeing of NHS staff, including:
- Psychological support to staff affected by the suicide of a colleague.
- Social spaces that allow staff to discuss worries in confidence.
- Better rest spaces for on-call staff and trainees during and after their shifts, allowing them to sleep, shower and eat.
- A dedicated ‘Samaritans-style’ mental health helpline giving confidential advice and support 24 hours a day.
- Fast-tracked mental health referrals for NHS staff if requested as a priority from either a GP or an occupational health clinician.
- NHS ‘Workforce Wellbeing Guardians’ in every NHS organisation to champion mental health and wellbeing support, as well as helping to ensure a number of wellbeing principles are adhered to.
- Post-incident support for NHS frontline employees, such as peer group support or a more formal psychological assessment.
The report says that occupational health services are now viewed as a back-office function, having been subjected to significant budget cuts, and somewhere employees are sent rather than turn to for help.
Going forward, the HEE would like to see an “NHS for the NHS” where occupational health services are prioritised as a frontline clinical function with suitable funding.
For the report, HEE staff spoke with NHS employees who have been affected by their experiences at work, as well as family members who had lost relatives through suicide.
Health and social care secretary Matt Hancock said: “Working under pressure, NHS staff put themselves in some of the most challenging situations imaginable as part of their unwavering commitment to caring for us all. So they deserve unwavering support from us all.
“I’m so proud of the service NHS staff give, so the mental and physical wellbeing of the people who work in our health service must be our utmost priority. Today’s important report helps guide how we can do that, from creating the right culture of support to giving everyone somewhere to turn in the toughest times.”
The government is right to recognise that the mental health and wellbeing of NHS employees should be treated as a priority. Hopefully, the recommendations outlined in the HEE report will have a positive impact and allow the amazing employees of the NHS to perform their jobs to the very best of their abilities.
I joined Premier Choice Group as an SME/Corporate Consultant in 2017 and look after the Healthcare & Protection needs of a nationwide portfolio. I began my career in Healthcare and Protection in 1985 with BUPA, before moving on to Royal & Sun Alliance. In 2002, I became an Intermediary and worked with Private Clients, SME’s and Corporate clients on a local, national and international basis.