Nurses’ well-being: ‘burnout’ too gentle a term for mental distress

NHS medical director tells MPs radical action needed to improve nurses’ mental well-being

Senior clinician Dame Clare Gerada tells health and social care parliamentary committee that radical action is needed to improve NHS staff well-being

NHS medical director tells MPs radical action needed to improve nurses’ mental well-being
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Burnout is not a strong enough term to describe the severe mental distress nurses and other NHS staff are experiencing, says a doctor who has led efforts to improve care for health professionals.

Paid reflective time should be written into staff contract, committee hears

Medical director of the NHS Practitioner Health service Dame Clare Gerada told MPs radical action was needed to improve the mental well-being of NHS staff.

She said nurses and other healthcare staff should be entitled to one hour of paid reflective time per month to be written into NHS employees’ contracts, alongside mentoring, careers advice and leadership training built in throughout people’s careers.

Dr Gerada was among senior clinicians who gave evidence this week to the Health and Social Care Committee, which is looking at issues around recruitment and retention of staff.

High suicide rates among nurses and doctors

She told the committee the term ‘burnout’ simply did not cover the level of stress and mental anguish experienced by NHS workers. ‘Burnout is too gentle a term for the mental distress that is going on amongst our workforce,’ she said.

High suicide rates among nurses and doctors, high levels of bullying and staff being sacked because they have long-COVID are all signs the health service is failing to look after its employees, she said.

‘The symptoms we have got are the symptoms of an organisation that is unable to care for its workforce in the way that it should be caring,’ she said.

Doctor tells MPs ‘we have to put that fire out, not just patch up people who are burnt’

Dr Gerada described how nurses and doctors were being driven to suicide because of the intense pressure they were under and likened working in the NHS to ‘working on a burning platform’.

‘We have to put that fire out, not just patch up people who are burnt,’ she said.

She said she wanted to see the creation of a new arms-length independent body – with the same power and resources as regulator the Care Quality Commission - to focus on staff well-being and hold health and care leaders to account.

The Department for Health and Social Care and NHS England have been approached for comment.

What to do if you need help

  • RCN members can get free, confidential support and assistance to help them deal with personal and work-related issues. The RCN counselling service is available 8.30am–8.30pm, seven days a week, 365 days a year. To make an appointment call 0345 772 6100
  • The Samaritans offers a safe place to talk any time, including about job-related stress or anxiety. Call free on 116 123

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