Burnout risk high for women in NHS, says report

A new report sounds the alarm bell for women working in the NHS, particularly mothers, who face well being pressures at both work and home.

flexible working nhs employee


The NHS Confederation has sounded an alarm that it risks losing women workers who make up the largest proportion of its workforce due to stress and exhaustion as a result of the different pressures on them of Covid-19.

The survey, carried out by the NHS Confederation’s Health and Care Women Leaders Network, received responses from more than 1,300 women working across health and care in England.

It shows almost three quarters of respondents (72 per cent) – including managers, nurses, admin staff, doctors and allied health professionals – reported that their job had a greater negative impact than usual on their emotional wellbeing as a result of the pandemic. More than half (52 per cent) had suffered a negative impact on their physical health.

The survey was carried out in June, two months after the national peak in hospital admissions for coronavirus had passed, and shows the longer lasting impact the disease has had on women, including caring responsibilities at home.

For example, since the start of lockdown, respondents reported that they took on an average of 11.22 additional hours each week of non-work caring responsibilities, but only reduced their working hours to take account of these responsibilities by 1.44 hours each week.

However, many also reported positive experiences about the strong managerial support they received, as well as how the pandemic brought teams closer together and reduced administrative tasks.

Nevertheless, the Health and Care Women Leaders Network is concerned that if the issues around mental and physical well being are not addressed, it could intensify burnout across the sector at a time when the NHS may be under renewed pressure. It is also worried about the impact on women’s career progression in the NHS.

Samantha Allen, chair of the NHS Confederation’s Health and Care Women Leaders Network and chief executive of Sussex Partnership NHS Foundation Trust, said: “Women make up more than three-quarters of the NHS workforce, so we cannot afford to let these issues be ignored. Now more than ever, women across health and care must have access to the right support so that we can minimise the risk of burnout, protect their wellbeing, and make sure they are mentally and physically healthy enough to continue to care for and support our communities.”

Elsewhere in the survey, health and care staff from BME backgrounds reported feeling traumatised by the disproportionate impact of the virus, compounded by concerns over risk assessments not being performed in a timely manner, if at all.  Dr Henrietta Hughes, National Guardian for the NHS, said: “The responses that show the barriers that continue to be faced by Black, and Minority Ethnic colleagues to speak up are particularly shocking. It shows the critical role which managers play in fostering a culture where we feel safe to share these concerns or be signposted to alternative speaking up channels and to keep our NHS People Promise that ‘we each have a voice that counts’.”

In response, the network has produced 10 recommendations for action, including a call for flexible working requests to be accommodated unless there are exceptional reasons why this is not possible; a particular focus on the well being needs of working mums; the urgent appointment of well being champions; discouragement of unpaid overtime; a focus on safety and appropriate PPE; support for workers to speak out about concerns; a review of homeworking policies and the provision of domestic violence information to all staff working across health and care.

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