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“A time-bomb within our health system”: more than three-quarters of NHS staff have considered quitting

A new survey shows health service workers reporting extreme levels of stress, anxiety and burnout.

By Harry Clarke-Ezzidio

More than three quarters (78.5 per cent) of surveyed NHS staff working across various areas of the health service have considered quitting in the past three years, new research reveals.

The survey of more than 2,500 NHS workers, carried out by the workplace campaigning platform Organise, uncovered high levels of stress and burnout among staff. The figures come as the government prepares to unveil its long-awaited workforce plan, which aims to ensure the health service has enough personnel to meet demand now and in the future.

The survey also reveals that 79 per cent of respondents reported experiencing stress from their work, 62 per cent said they had suffered from anxiety, and 55 per cent had experienced burnout in recent years. Around 55 per cent of respondents had to take time off work as a result of stress, anxiety, or burnout, with some having to take more than a month of leave.

A majority of NHS workers, according to the Organise survey, report that patients are experiencing medication errors, delays in procedures and a compromised quality of care.

“The survey’s findings paint a stark picture of a ticking time bomb within our healthcare system,” Nat Whalley, the CEO and co-founder of Organise, told Spotlight. “Empty promises won’t suffice; we need tangible investments in the NHS that give workers a fair wage, and protect workers from stress, anxiety, and burnout.”

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The NHS is facing its biggest ever crisis. Health workers across various disciplines have taken strike action in recent months, demanding pay rises which better reflect recent inflation. Following fraught negotiations with the government – which initially offered a 4 per cent rise for this year – unions are balloting their members on an improved pay offer.

Nothing was announced specifically for the NHS in Chancellor Jeremy Hunt’s Budget in March. Hunt did, however, address the issue of doctors leaving the service to take early retirement by announcing that the lifetime tax-free pension allowance cap of £1.07m would be abolished. The Chancellor said the reforms would convince early retirees to rejoin the NHS, and would “incentivise our most experienced and productive workers to stay in work for longer”. The true impact of the government’s plans are yet to be seen, according to the government’s own figures, only 105 doctors left the NHS due to early retirement in 2021/2022. 

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[See also: NHS leaders are concerned over lack of new funds in the Budget]

The government will soon announce its wider plan to keep, train and recruit enough workers to meet the country’s health needs. Its NHS long-term workforce plan is currently being examined by ministers from the Treasury and the Department for Health and Social Care.

An early version of the report, which was leaked and has been seen by the Guardian, outlines the scale of the challenge the NHS is facing in relation to its workforce. NHS England is already operating with a shortfall of 154,000 full-time staff – and without sufficient intervention, that number could reach 571,000 by 2036. The plan calls for a 55 per cent increase in staffing the NHS as a whole, which includes doubling the amount of doctors in training, a 77 per cent uplift to the amount of nurses trained, and the number of dentists to rise by 40 per cent. The report also warned that the increasing trend of the NHS employing overseas workers – who now account for one in six of the workforce – is “not… a universal solution to rising workforce demand”.

The proposals reportedly face “significant pushback” from the Treasury. A senior NHS leader told the Guardian that Hunt wants the workforce plan’s “numbers to be projected in a different way that would be less expensive and to not commit to training specific numbers of doctors, nurses and others”.

“It’s pretty clear that the current status quo is unsustainable,” said Whalley. “The long-awaited NHS workforce plan must prioritise a significant increase in pay, expanding recruitment and financial support for those in training… and a host of other measures to address understaffing and patient and staff safety.”

[See also: The health crisis nobody is talking about]

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