The government claims (as all governments do) to want to respect, protect and improve the roles of our doctors, nurses and carers as it re-engineers the NHS; but the sharply increasing number of employees leaving each year is clear evidence that, whatever they say they’re doing, it ain’t working for the staff.
We already know that the NHS is struggling to recruit enough doctors both for hospitals and general practices.
We also know that an alarming proportion of current GP’s (about 40%) are over 50 and that over a third (34%) of all our GP’s are considering retirement in the next five years.
In a BMA survey of 15,000 GP’s conducted in April 2015 a further 28% of the doctors interviewed were looking to move to part-time working and 16% were actively pursuing a move abroad or a career outside of medicine altogether.
71% of all those surveyed stated that excessive workloads and stress were the defining factors in their decision making.
There is a clear shortage of nurses too, with many hospitals already relying heavily on expensive agency support just to keep a minimum level of staffing on a daily basis to cover holidays and sickness.
It becomes a self-defeating spiral with the demands on individuals leading to increased stress and illness among staff.
Last year the NHS lost over 845,000 sick days to stress, anxiety or depression among front line staff; a 37% increase on 2011/2012, when the latest re-organisation plans were first implemented.
Qualified ambulance staff took an average of 25 sick days each, making them the group with the highest stress-related sick record.
Some trusts report that stress-related leave has trebled in the past three years, leaving them with a huge bill for locum and agency cover.
Now we discover that last year nearly 14,000 staff actually left the NHS for good, citing workload as the reason and a further 3,000 were forced to leave for health reasons.
This is virtually double the number leaving for the same reasons in 2011/2012.
In all, over 67,000 NHS staff left the service in 2015, an increase of 9,000 on the turnover figure in 2011.
Inevitably many of these highly qualified and experienced staff will end up working at agencies and private health companies where they will be offered better employment terms for doing the same jobs they did while at the NHS.
Senior managers know they have an enormous staff retention problem but the employment terms for their key staff are out of their hands.
At times it has appeared that the Health Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, along with his predecessor, Andrew Lansley, have been consciously deaf to the warnings of dangerously low morale and, uniquely among the holders of that post, keen to blame all the shortcomings and failures of the service on the workers within it.
In an atmosphere created by the government in which ‘public employees’ are vilified for costing too much of the taxpayer’s money with subsequent and arbitrary cuts in pension rights, salaries and benefits, is it any wonder that thousands of our most dedicated and hardworking health professionals have decided to look after themselves and their own families rather than stay where they are not appreciated?
Any business leader will tell you that an organisation can only succeed when the people inside it are properly motivated; that staff retention and engagement are much more cost efficient than recruitment and that a sense of personal worth and professional pride goes a long way to producing excellence.
Let’s hope they learn these lessons before the NHS loses many more staff.
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