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Burnout is ‘dangerous risk’ to functioning of UK's NHS, finds inquiry

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Nearly half (44 per cent) of NHS workers report feeling unwell because of work-related stress, according to a survey which went out to 1.2 million NHS employees.


It showed that in 2020, 46 per cent of staff said that they had gone to work in the last three months despite not feeling well enough to perform their duties. This is a marked increase from 2019 (40.3 per cent) and a steady increase since 2016 (36.8 per cent).

In 2020, 46 per cent of NHS staff said that they had gone to work in the last three months despite not feeling well enough to perform their duties. Photograph: iStock

The findings were cited by a highly critical report from the Health and Social Care committee, which is running an inquiry into workforce burnout and resilience in the NHS.

Poor staff health and wellbeing was also linked with turnover and intention to quit, said evidence submitted to inquiry by the King’s fund.

Although Covid-19 had a huge impact on workforce pressures, the Committee was told of staff shortages across the NHS and social care prior to the pandemic, with such shortages identified as ultimately the biggest driver of workforce burnout.

The inquiry heard that NHS workforce planning was at best opaque and at worst was responsible for unacceptable pressure on staff.

Rt Hon Jeremy Hunt MP, Chair of Health and Social Care 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," he added. 

He continued: “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.”

‘Burnout’ is a syndrome resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed, according to the definition by The World Health Organization.

It is characterized by three dimensions: feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion; increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one’s job; and reduced professional efficacy.

The Health and Social Care committee inquiry launched in July 2020 to examine workforce burnout across the NHS and social care.

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