Record number of workers  leaving England’s national health service 

February 27, 2022 - 21:46

TEHRAN- New research has shown a record of more than 400 workers are leaving England’s National Health Service (NHS) every week, over the past year, amid complaints of burnout and post-traumatic stress disorder. 

The new analysis will be disturbing news for the British government which is already grappling with multiple crises in the health sector, one of them being the workforce shortage and the quality of care for patients. 

The new findings follow an investigation into the public’s attitude towards health and social care services and have been put together by John Hall, a former strategy director at the Department of Health and Social Care, on behalf of the British charity Engage. 

The mass departure of workers will fuel public unease at the lack of service quality being provided to patients with the study finding that more than a quarter of adults saying they or an immediate family member have received poor medical care because of problems with the workforce.

The government has already been sharply criticized for its 1% pay offer for front-line workers during the two years they have dealt with the covid pandemic. 

Critics say the offer was a slap in the face and another example of the government’s lack of respect for NHS staff who have been grappling with Europe’s worst covid related deaths and infections. 

NHS staff had already complained through demonstrations and protests for suffering from a decade of below-inflation pay rises.

Despite the government’s public praise of NHS staff during the pandemic, analysts say if Downing Street had offered the workforce with the wages they really deserve during the pandemic, it may have at least raised morale. 

Alistair Ritchie, an advanced nurse practitioner in intensive care says “the pandemic itself was dreadful. We were all working flat out, extra hours, with fewer staff per patient and spending all of our time in PPE”. 

The medic highlights and questions that “what makes it worse is a greater amount had already been agreed in the original pay deal. Are we worth less now than we were before the pandemic?”

Another warning came in December last year when the NHS forecasted another 230,000 new cases (between 2020/21 and 2022/23) of its workers will suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder in England because of the pandemic. 

Hall, who carried out the latest damaging assessment says “the workforce crisis in the NHS has clearly penetrated the public consciousness”. 

He says “the UK has long had significantly lower numbers of doctors and nurses per capita than comparable systems … More recently, the impact of working conditions is showing an increasing impact on the ability of the NHS to retain staff. Around 50 in every 10,000 staff working in hospital and community health services in June 2021 left the service within the next three months, citing work-life balance as the reason. This was a new record.”

An analysis of NHS Digital figures shows that at least 400 staff a week in England are leaving to improve their work-life balance. 

And this comes as evidence emerges of high turnover among social care workers. Recent estimates show more than a third (34%) of care workers left their roles in 2020-21.

The biggest losers will be the British public who are seeking medical care and treatment yet have to wait longer to receive any attention. 

More than six million patients are now waiting for non-urgent treatment in England as the waiting list figures reach record highs again.

By the end of December, 6,067,326 patients were placed on the long waiting list for non-life-threatening surgery. That is the highest number since records began in the summer of August 2007. The massive waiting list is also a rise of 72,000 from the previous month. 

This is while the number of patients having to wait more than 52 weeks to start treatment stood at 310,813 in December.

And new figures show a record 16,558 people had to wait more than 12 hours in accident and emergency departments in England’s hospitals during the month of January. 

A senior occupational therapist told the charity group Engage on condition of anonymity that she decided to pay for an expensive operation after injuring her knee because she had seen how overwhelmed the NHS had become. 

The therapist says “waiting for eight weeks might become 12 weeks or more. Living on my own, I didn’t have anyone to help me, and relying on friends just didn’t feel right. I just felt lucky I was in the position where I could choose when others can’t”. 

The senior NHS therapist adds “I think people generally feel overworked and undervalued in the NHS”. 

She further notes that “there are problems with recruitment and retention of staff. Some vacancies are unfilled for more than a year. The stress levels on staff in under-resourced teams is massive and it’s a major contributor to them struggling with their mental health and wellbeing. Ultimately, people make the decision to leave, or to take early retirement, or seek other careers”. 

Engage has warned the British government that frontline workers are now running on empty and that a plan for boosting the workforce is very long overdue.

The charity group says NHS workers across the country “have spoken to us about feeling overstretched, undervalued, and struggling to get support in a chaotic system. We can’t allow staff to burn out while putting patients at risk of mistakes or spiraling downwards as they wait months for treatment”. 

The group warns the government must act quickly “to expand its promise of reform, based on listening to the people who use or work in the system every day. Only answers rooted in real experiences can deliver health and care that works for us all”.

Over the past years, NHS workers have increasingly complained about back-breaking 12-hour shifts, exhaustion, and burnout saying it has led to a growing number of nurses and other workers leaving their posts, only three years after joining. 

A lack of access to food and drink while at work along with stress and the growing demands of caring for patients have also been cited as key factors for the exodus.

Critics say despite the warnings, the NHS staff street protests, and the public research highlighting the serious issues and problems; the government has done almost nothing in meeting the core demands and making the country’s health sector the priority that it should have been. 

The lack of government action is now being put on full public display in a very negative light. The impact is being felt not only by the NHS staff who have endured years of suffering but also on the patients themselves who are facing record waiting times and poorer services. 

Critics argue the lack of attention by the authorities and the health ministry towards the hospitals and the care homes is one of the leading factors to England facing one of the worst covid death tolls and infection cases in the world. 

During the pandemic, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson strongly praised “our modern army of doctors and nurses”, but put nothing on the table in terms of support to prove that he actually meant those words.  

In essence, both the NHS workforce and patients have been abandoned; not just by the current PM but consecutive British governments.

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