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Hancock misses the point – the NHS is stretched to breaking point

The NHS Staff Survey paints the same picture every year – over-worked and under-paid staff working around the clock to provide essential services while stress levels rise and resources deplete, resulting in working conditions that negatively affect both staff and patients.

The 2019 survey (published yesterday) is no exception, and reveals that 1 in 5 members of staff are actively considering leaving the NHS, while more than a quarter have experienced bullying, harassment or abuse from patients in the last 12 months.

The health secretary, Matt Hancock, was quick to condemn the bullying, saying that “being assaulted or abused is not part of the job” in a letter written to all NHS staff.

Indeed, much of the coverage generated by the survey has focused on the violence and abuse faced by staff members. It’s been reported that from April, any patient or hospital visitor behaving in a discriminatory or harassing way towards staff could be banned from receiving care, unless in the case of emergency.

However, such measures – while necessary for staff protection – do little to remedy the underlying issue of a workforce stretched to its limit.

Over 40 percent of the 569,400 staff surveyed reported feeling unwell as a result of work-related stress – the highest proportion in five years, and nearly two thirds have said they had gone to work despite not feeling well enough to perform their duties. Furthermore, staff members’ health and wellbeing rating was the second lowest of all indicators, only narrowly beating quality of appraisals to the bottom spot.

But it doesn’t have to be this way. One potential solution to this crisis of staff wellbeing would be to digitally enable services and allow staff to use digital tools to ‘move fast and mend things’.

For example, online primary care providers such as Push Doctor or Docly, and online mental health services like Big White Wall are offering innovative digital solutions that not only benefit service users, but staff as well. Working remotely, GPs, psychologists and counsellors can treat patients anywhere in the country, helping to alleviate NHS staffing pressures in some areas and reducing the risk of burnout.

Digital providers provide a whole new infrastructure that can support struggling NHS services, staff and patients. Resilience is something that people are often tested for in interviews and appraisals, and it’s talked about a lot in the NHS. We shouldn’t need to test for resilience; or ask people to dig that little bit deeper, to be more patient, to tough it out.  Digital health services represent a new way to deliver healthcare services, that don’t necessitate staff and patients to show resilience.

As digital solutions and therapeutics reshape the way we provide ongoing care to millions of patients, it’s time for the NHS to fully embrace digital for the sake of not only their patients, but their staff too.

ZPB work with a number of digital health and tech clients, and also run the Digital Healthcare Council, which represents the UK’s  leading digital care providers.


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