NHS frontline heading for ‘burnout emergency’ even before Covid

Staff burnout is an ‘extraordinarily dangerous risk’ to the NHS and social care, former health secretary Jeremy Hunt said.

A report by the Health and Social Care Committee has unearthed enduring issues which threaten the future of the UK’s cherished health service.

Employees are so exhausted that a ‘total overhaul’ of the way staff levels are managed is now considered an ‘emergency’.

An official survey found nearly half of NHS workers experienced job-related stress as Covid-19 took its toll.

Members told MPs: ‘The emergency that workforce burnout has become will not be solved without a total overhaul of the way the NHS does workforce planning.

‘After the pandemic, which revealed so many critical staff shortages, the least we can do for staff is to show there is a long-term solution to those shortages, ultimately the biggest driver of burnout.’

They said poor workforce planning placed an ‘unacceptable pressure’ on NHS workers.

The Royal College of Psychiatrists has said a lack of staff is one of the biggest causes of workforce burnout in mental health services.

There were 50,000 nursing vacancies in the UK pre-pandemic, the Royal College of Nursing added.

The committee said: ‘It is clear that workforce planning has been led by the funding envelope available to health and social care, rather than by demand and the capacity required to service that demand.’

The numbers in England waiting to start hospital treatment has risen to a record high of 4,950,000 people.

Committee chairman Mr Hunt added: ‘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.

‘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.’

During the pandemic, the NHS Staff Survey found 44% of staff reported feeling unwell as a result of work-related stress in the previous 12 months.

But even before the crisis, the NHS faced shortages of around ‘one in 10 or one in 12 staff’, the MPs’ report added.

Meanwhile, in adult social care, MPs heard during their inquiry that the situation is ‘fragile’.

The charity Skills For Care estimated that 7.3% of roles in adult social care had been vacant during the financial year 2019-20, equivalent to around 112,000 vacancies at any one time.

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