The NHS is currently facing one of its most significant challenges since the inception of the NHS in 1948. With over 1.4 million staff, the impact of the pandemic on the NHS is hidden under the daily headlines of coronavirus numbers.
Health and well-being is a fundamental part of a person’s ability to function on a daily basis in whatever role they play within society. Being able to feel motivated, valued and to be able to enjoy a good work/home life balance is essential to ensuring an empowered and inspired workforce. Like all key workers, staff working in the NHS have been unable to attain this balance due to the relentless pressure on services and this has the potential to impact on the quality of patient care.
Almost all areas of the NHS have been impacted upon. Services have had to be redesigned, staff redeployed to areas where they are needed, and the daily demand on all staff has risen to unprecedented levels. Other factors have also impacted on staff well-being: the apprehension and fear of being exposed to the Covid virus have led to an unquestionable increase in anxiety levels in staff. On top of this, staff have witnessed colleagues testing positive and in some tragic cases, staff have seen the death of fellow worker which will only increase this anxiety and distress. Let’s also not forget that the NHS workforce also has home lives, their children out of their routine, and financial concerns may be loitering due to partners being furloughed; this all adds up to a stew of despair and frustration.
NHS organisations have been generally alert and reactive to this cacophony of concerns. Providing staff with ‘wobble rooms’ and other areas where staff can have ‘time out’ during a shift has been very much appreciated. Allowing greater flexibility in terms of working from home, flexing shift hours to accommodate child care has also been acknowledged and respected. The outpouring of appreciation from the public to the NHS has also been extremely well-received and should not be underestimated in relation to the positive impact it has had on all NHS staff and services.
Perhaps the true cost on the NHS workforce will be seen in the coming years. Retaining staff is an important role when trying to enable a skilled and experienced group of staff. If the health and well-being of all staff are not acknowledged then this will have a negative impact on staff retention over the coming years.
Indeed the Kings Fund agree with this by suggesting t is important to improve the retention of staff already working in the NHS, especially with so many staff suffering from burnout and significant numbers intending to leave. The Kings Fund acknowledge that to do this, the NHS must ‘focus on becoming a better employer, for example by tackling bullying and discrimination, as well as providing an attractive employment offer, including more opportunities for flexible working, and embedding collective, compassionate and inclusive leadership across the NHS to create cultures in which staff want to work and build their careers’.
Fundamentally, it’s now the time – more than ever – that the focus is on healthy living and a healthy mindset. The impact of exercise and a healthy diet has been well-documented in relation to both positive impacts on the body and mind. NHS staff should be encouraged to regularly go for walks during their breaks, eat and drink when needed and for NHS services to foster an attitude of compassion and empathy. Its also a time to encourage staff supervision, regular meetings with their colleagues to discuss their workload and any challenging situations that they may have faced during their shifts. A ‘no blame attitude’ must also be acknowledged by NHS leaders to ensure that staff and services learn from any mistakes or issues in relation to patient care. Errors should be seen as a learning opportunity and not an occasion to point the finger at an already dishevelled workforce.
2020 and 2021 will go down as a seismic year within the history of the NHS. And NHS leaders must ensure that the lessons learned from the pandemic overarch into the future, especially when it comes to ensuring staff are valued and empowered. Staff provide the backbone to the NHS and its more important than ever that we ensure that all of these staff members are acknowledged from not only a workforce perspective but also a health and well-being one.
Leon Ratcliffe is a Trust Lead Advanced Clinical Practitioner at the University Hospital of North Midlands NHS Trust.
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