NHS failing in its duty to look after the health of its staff, doctors say

 

The NHS in England is not doing enough to look after the health of its staff, doctors have warned, as a report found that nearly half of NHS trusts do not have a mental wellbeing policy in place for their employees.

In a national audit carried out by the Royal College of Physicians (RCP), only 57 per cent of NHS trusts reported having a clear policy to support staff suffering from problems such as stress, anxiety and other mental health problems.

The report will heighten concerns over the pressures faced by the NHS workforce in light of increasing demand and budget cuts. It comes a week after staff morale was cited as the chief concern of NHS finance directors for the first time, in a major study carried out by the King’s Fund think tank.

NHS staff took an average 9.5 days of sick leave in 2012/13, with mental health problems the second most common reason for absence, after back pain.

Employee morale is directly linked to the quality of care that patients receive, and guidelines from the National Institute of Health and Care Excellence (NICE) require trusts to offer their staff support to improve their mental and physical health.

The RCP said it was of particular concern that nearly a quarter of trusts were not monitoring their staff’s mental health at all, meaning they had no way of knowing the extent to which it was affecting rates of sick leave.

Dr Siân Williams, clinical director of the RCP’s Health and Work Development Unit, said that while more NHS managers were acknowledging the importance of staff wellbeing, there was “wide variation” across the country and “progress is slow”.

“This is concerning given the evidence that NHS staff health influences patient outcomes, for example infection rates,” she said. “There is room for improvement to ensure that organisations are providing the best support for their staff.”

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