NHS and social care staff burnout reaches ‘emergency’ level

Tuesday, 8th June 2021, 8:40 am
A report by the Health and Social Care Committee called for immediate action to support exhausted staff who have worked throughout the Covid-19 pandemic (Getty Images)

NHS and social care staff burnout has reached an “emergency” level, MPs have warned.

In a highly critical report, the Health and Social Care Committee called for immediate action to support exhausted staff who have worked throughout the Covid-19 pandemic.

However, it also pointed to long-standing, unresolved issues even before the pandemic.

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The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) told MPs that, prior to the onset of the pandemic, there were 50,000 nursing vacancies in the UK, while the Royal College of Psychiatrists has said a lack of staff is one of the biggest causes of workforce burnout in mental health services.

The report also says that the level of burnout for staff could pose a risk to the future of services.

What the report said

In their new report, the MPs said: “The emergency that workforce burnout has become will not be solved without a total overhaul of the way the NHS does workforce planning.

“After the pandemic, which revealed so many critical staff shortages, the least we can do for staff is to show there is a long-term solution to those shortages, ultimately the biggest driver of burnout.”

The MPs said that, while issues such as excessive workloads may not be solved overnight, staff should be given the confidence that a long-term solution is in place.

“The way that the NHS does workforce planning is at best opaque and at worst responsible for the unacceptable pressure on the current workforce which existed even before the pandemic,” the study said.

“It is clear that workforce planning has been led by the funding envelope available to health and social care rather than by demand and the capacity required to service that demand.”

The MPs said that without a proper public statement on the staffing needs for the next decade, “the shortages in the health and care workforce will endure, to the detriment of both the service provision and the staff”.

They said they “recommend again” that Health Education England publishes “objective, transparent and independently-audited” annual reports on workforce needs for health and social care that cover the next five to 20 years.

‘Workforce burnout presents dangerous risk to services’

Tory MP and former health secretary, Jeremy Hunt, who is chairman of the committee, said: “Workforce burnout across the NHS and care systems now presents an extraordinarily dangerous risk to the future functioning of both services.

“An absence of proper, detailed workforce planning has contributed to this, and was exposed by the pandemic with its many demands on staff.

“However, staff shortages existed long before Covid-19.

“Staff face unacceptable pressure with chronic excessive workload identified as a key driver of workforce burnout.

“It will simply not be possible to address the backlog caused by the pandemic unless these issues are addressed.

“Achieving a long-term solution demands a complete overhaul of workforce planning.

“Those plans should be guided by the need to ensure that the long-term supply of doctors, nurses and other clinicians is not constrained by short-term deficiencies in the number trained.

“Failure to address this will lead to not just more burnout but more expenditure on locum doctors and agency nurses.”