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NHS stuck in ‘vicious cycle’ over care backlog

·3-min read

The record backlog in hospital care is causing “untold strain” on NHS workers, the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh has said.

The College has warned that NHS staff feel “under pressure and undervalued” and “do not get joy from their jobs anymore” as it called for improvement in staff wellbeing across the health service.

It said the NHS is stuck in a “vicious cycle” where more staff are needed to help tackle the backlog but the waiting list is causing strain on current staff.

Some 6.4 million people are on the waiting list in England alone.

The College said the cycle can be broken with better recruitment and retention of staff.

It has called for a suite of measures to help retain and support staff, including staff break rooms and recreational facilities, universal free hospital staff parking, overnight accommodation where needed, access to fresh and healthy food and mental health support.

Many of these measures are used widely in the private sector but “completely neglected” in the NHS, it said.

“The last two years have been very challenging for those working in the NHS but as we begin to slowly come out the other side of the pandemic, I fear we are at real risk of a major workforce crisis as staff who have been left burned out continue to feel under pressure and undervalued,” said Professor Michael Griffin, College president.

“Many NHS workers simply do not get joy from their jobs anymore, partly because they lack basic facilities that the majority of UK workers take for granted.

“We are stuck in a vicious cycle in which hospitals are dealing with record waiting lists which cannot be tackled without adequate staffing, and this backlog is causing untold strain on workers, not to mention risking patient safety.

“The only way to break the cycle is to attract and retain more workers, and to do so, we need to make the NHS a better place to work.

“Pay is important but we also need to transform the NHS so it is seen as an attractive employer and a safe and comfortable place to work, which at the moment it is not.”

Addressing the College’s Triennial Conference in Edinburgh, he added: “These little things may sound insignificant but they make all the difference to staff morale and the overall working atmosphere.

“At an absolute minimum, we need adequate staff rooms where workers can go and talk about their day with their colleagues. Having that downtime and a sense of community is absolutely vital when doing such a high-pressure job.

“These are the type of things that would be customary in many private sector companies but are completely neglected when it comes to the NHS.”

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “Patient safety and staff wellbeing are of paramount importance to us, and across NHS Scotland staffing is at record levels.

“We have made £12 million available in 2021-22 to support the mental health and wellbeing of the workforce. We also have a range of resources including the National Wellbeing Hub, confidential mental health treatment delivered through the Workforce Specialist Service, funding for additional local psychological support and wellbeing coaching support.

“We are discussing a pay deal for NHS Agenda for Change (AfC) staff in 2022-23 with trade unions and employers, which will be backdated to 1 April. We remain committed to ensuring that NHS Scotland AfC continue to have the best pay and conditions of AfC staff in the UK.

“There are no car parking changes in place at any hospitals in Scotland.”

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