Extra hours, violence, stress and working while unwell

The pressures on staff at the Northumbria Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust have been revealed in a survey carried out by the health service.

Friday, 16th March 2018, 1:00 pm
Northumbria Specialist Emergency Care Hospital in Cramlington. Picture by Jane Coltman

It shows that nearly two thirds are working extra hours and more than a quarter say they have been unwell through work-related stress.

It also reveals the levels of violence and bullying by patients and their families that health workers can face.

The survey is carried out annually by the NHS in England and is the biggest staff survey in the world.

At the Northumbria Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust, 65 per cent of staff were working extra hours, either paid or unpaid, and 30 per cent reported that they were being made unwell by the stress of the job.

The findings for 2017 also show how staff felt the need to be in work even if they were sick themselves. In the three months before taking the survey, 48 per cent said they had gone to work while unwell because they felt pressure from managers, colleagues or self-imposed pressure to do so.

Most believed that their work at the hospital was important with 91 per cent saying that they felt their role made a difference to patients.

Christina McAnea, assistant general secretary of Unison, the union representing many health workers, said: “Staff are the backbone of the NHS. Their hard work and dedication, often in challenging circumstances, is keeping the NHS afloat.

“While health workers might be our heroes, they’re not super humans. High vacancy rates mean there’s frequently too few of them to do all the tasks required so they regularly stay late, because they care about patients and want to get the job done.

“But endless unpaid overtime and excessively long working days don’t make for healthy employees. As the stress gets the better of them and they inevitably fall ill, many persist on going in, fearful that if they don’t they’ll be letting overworked colleagues and their patients down.”

The survey sheds light on the difficult and sometimes dangerous situations that hospital staff can face. Violence by some patients has long been identified as a problem and among staff answering the survey 17 per cent said that they had experienced physical violence from patients, their relatives or other members of the public in the past 12 months.

And intimidation of staff is an even greater problem with 27 per cent saying that they had faced bullying or harassment from patients or members of the public while at work.

Ms McAnea said: “NHS staff are under incredible pressure, yet they can’t crumble. Even though they may experience bullying from equally fraught colleagues or managers, and suffer rudeness or worse from difficult relatives or patients, they keep going.”

The findings also reveal that 27 per cent of staff at Northumbria Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust had witnessed a potentially harmful error or so-called near miss in the month prior to taking the survey, lower than the national rate for such incidents.

The survey is open to 1.1million people working for the NHS and the response rate at Northumbria Healthcare Trust was 73 per cent.

Ann Stringer, executive director of human resources and organisational development at Northumbria Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust, said: “We welcome the feedback in the 2017 national staff survey and we are pleased that, in these challenging times for the NHS, 91 per cent of our staff felt their role made a difference to patients.

“While our figures for staff working extra hours, being unwell due to work-related stress and feeling pressure to come to work when unwell are better than the average for acute trusts, we continue to support our staff through our extensive health and wellbeing initiatives and we are pleased that we achieved the best score of all acute trusts in relation to staff feeling that the organisation takes an interest in, and action on, health and wellbeing.”

“Despite these positive results, we are fully aware that there are areas on which we need to focus.

“We want all members of staff to work in a safe environment and with regards to staff experiencing physical violence, bullying or harassment from patients, relatives and the public, we are looking at these results in detail to further understand the challenges our teams face in this respect and address any issues.”