Nurse burnout: ‘urgent action’ need to stop staff exodus
Report highlights 40% of nurses feel burned out at work, and calls for new strategy to identify the root causes and how to tackle them
A new approach to tackling high levels of burnout among healthcare workers is urgently needed as almost half of nurses feel burned out at work, a new report has found.
Research published by the Society of Occupational Medicine (SOM) found that 40% of nurses reported ‘often’ or ‘always’ feeling burned out at work, according to a 2022 NHS workforce survey in England.
A total of 169,512 staff left the NHS in England in 2022, of which more than 35,000 were nurses and health visitors.
Stress and workforce pressures are often cited as a reason for leaving, with the last RCN biennial employment survey suggesting thousands of nurses were planning to leave their jobs due to exhaustion and feeling undervalued.
Critical care staff most at risk of burnout
The SOM said more than half of nurses reported emotional exhaustion. It suggested the ‘self-sacrificing and caring’ nature of the profession could lead individuals to neglect themselves.
While few differences were found in burnout rates reported in acute and mental health settings, the research found nurses working in critical care were most vulnerable.
‘Urgent action’ on burnout needed
SOM report author Gail Kinman said: ‘Burnout is an extremely serious matter that impacts workplaces across Britain, but it is a particular problem in healthcare settings.
‘We know that doctors, nurses and other healthcare professionals are more likely than most to experience burnout and therefore it is vitally important that we take urgent action.’
Elements of burnout
Burnout is a state of physical and emotional exhaustion caused by excessive, prolonged and untreated interpersonal workplace stress.
It occurs when individuals become emotionally exhausted, cynical and disengaged from the job, and feel a sense of ineffectiveness and loss of purpose.
Some common risk factors include high work demands, large caseloads, long working hours, shift work, little opportunity to take breaks, inadequate resources, emotional labour of ‘helping’ work, lack of autonomy, poor social support from managers or colleagues, and poor leadership.
Call for more occupational health for staff
The SOM report lays out primary, secondary and tertiary suggestions and strategies to help employers identify and tackle burnout among nurses and other healthcare staff – a move they say is vital to stop a mass exodus from the health service.
The SOM said universal access to occupational health is needed for all workers to help address the root causes of burnout if the government is to reach its target to improve staff retention rates as outlined in the NHS long-term workforce plan.
‘Making workloads manageable’ is vital
RCN health, safety and well-being national officer Kim Sunley said: ‘I’m concerned about the well-being of nursing staff and their patients – patient care will be impacted if 40% of nursing staff report severe levels of burnout.
‘The crisis in retaining nursing staff will not be resolved under the status quo. Nursing staff need support and details on how the NHS workforce plan will work in practice now. It is vital we tackle the root causes of burnout, making workloads manageable for nursing staff now, and solving long-term staff shortages.’
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