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Pressures and working conditions are damaging nurses’ health, ten-year review finds

Staffing levels and high workloads are leading to stress, burnout and mental health problems
Nurses are experiencing high levels of work related stress. A photo of a nurse crying on another nurses shoulder. Picture: iStock

Staffing levels and high workloads are leading to stress, burnout and mental health problems

Nurses working conditions threaten their health and affect their ability to deliver high quality care to patients, a new report concludes.

The Society of Occupational Medicine (SOM) report, commissioned and funded by the RCN Foundation, reviewed 100 studies published in the past ten years on the mental health of nurses and midwives in the UK.

It found that long shifts, low staffing levels and high workloads lead to nurses dealing with stress, burnout and mental health problems.

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Widespread change needed at organisational and manager level

The review was carried out before the COVID-19 pandemic and the report includes findings such as:

  • A 2018 NHS staff survey showed 43.5% of the 127,564

Staffing levels and high workloads are leading to stress, burnout and mental health problems

 iStock
Picture: iStock

Nurses’ working conditions threaten their health and affect their ability to deliver high quality care to patients, a new report concludes.

The Society of Occupational Medicine (SOM) report, commissioned and funded by the RCN Foundation, reviewed 100 studies published in the past ten years on the mental health of nurses and midwives in the UK.

It found that long shifts, low staffing levels and high workloads lead to nurses dealing with stress, burnout and mental health problems.

View our COVID-19 resource centre

Widespread change needed at organisational and manager level

The review was carried out before the COVID-19 pandemic and the report includes findings such as:

  • A 2018 NHS staff survey showed 43.5% of the 127,564 registered nurses and midwives in England who responded reported feeling unwell due to work-related stress.
  • Burnout among nurses in the UK is higher than in other European countries.
  • Nurses and midwives struggle to manage symptoms of anxiety and depression.
  • Staff from black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds are at greater risk of bullying and harassment than those in other groups.

The authors of the report recommend widespread change is made at organisational and manager level to support nurses and midwives.

 John Houlihan
Ann Harriss ​​​​Picture: John Houlihan

They say managers need to have a better understanding of nurses’ and midwives’ roles to avoid them being given tasks they are over or under-qualified for.

Suggestions also include staff being required to take all their breaks and having better access to food and bathroom facilities.

Putting in place a mental health strategy for nurses and midwives

The report also recommends that trusts have mental health strategies in place and staff are able to self-refer to counselling or occupational health support instead of being required to go to their line managers first.

Phased approaches should also be introduced when nurses and midwives who are struggling with their mental well-being return to work, it says.

Report co-author and SOM president Anne Harriss said that the research also highlights a lack of training and knowledge for ward managers on how to deal with the high level of stress experienced by nurses and midwives.

‘This knowledge is essential when planning staffing rotas to mitigate any possible negative impact on health,’ she said.


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