NHS staff suffering mental illness due to bullying, finds probe

A major occupational health review of the NHS has warned that staff are suffering from high levels of mental ill-health because of work stress, bullying and harassment.

The interim report of an independent review of the health and well-being of NHS staff, led by occupational health expert Dr Steve Boorman, said that managers were not taking employees’ concerns seriously enough. It criticised a lack of NHS occupational health services and called for early intervention mental health services to be made available to staff.

Staff survey uncovers stress

A staff survey carried out as part of the review revealed that half of respondents were “more stressed than usual”. Around a third said they did not believe that the NHS took a positive interest in employees’ health and well-being.

The report said: “We are particularly concerned at the high levels of psychological and mental health problems that NHS staff suffer from, not least because … management attitudes and practices may contribute to this.

Long hours and bullying

“…Tackling this issue will require addressing some of the deep-rooted cultural issues that are endemic in the NHS, such as a culture of long hours and high levels of bullying and harassment.”

The report said that employers in the NHS should waste no time in implementing forthcoming guidance on improving mental health at work by the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence. It also recommended that all NHS management practices should be brought into line with the Health and Safety Executive’s management standards for the control of work-related stress.

Boorman was commissioned by the government to look at the NHS following a wider review of workplace sickness last year by Dame Carol Black, which found that businesses needed to do more to tackle illness at work and promote healthy lifestyles.

NHS staff sickness levels higher than other industries

Based on a survey of NHS staff, the report found that absentee and sickness rates were significantly higher than for other sectors. NHS staff are on average absent for 10.7 days a year, compared with 9.7 in the public and 6.4 in the private sector.

Absence rates in mental health trusts were also found to be higher than the average for the rest of the NHS, at 5.2% compared with 4.5%.

£1.7bn lost a year through sickness absence

Boorman warned that the NHS loses £1.7bn a year through sickness absence alone. He added: “While there are strong examples of good practice, staff health and well-being provision is patchy across the service.

“By putting staff health and well-being at the heart of how the NHS operates we will not only help improve the working lives of 1.4m people, but evidence suggests we will make significant savings and improve outcomes for patients.”

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