New strategies must be introduced to prevent healthcare workers getting burnt out, experts have warned.
A report by the The Society of Occupational Medicine (SOM) – Burnout in healthcare: risk factors and solutions – identifies burnout as a “psychological syndrome” with symptoms such as emotional exhaustion, feelings of cynicism, detachment from the job and a sense of ineffectiveness which can have “serious implications for organisations and patients”.
The report said current initiatives aiming to reduce the risk of burnout focus on the individual, but more can be done when it comes to prevention.
It has called for intervention at different stages throughout the healthcare sector, which includes ensuring workloads are manageable and adequate support is available to staff, as well as training managers in wellbeing.
It also said more should be done to improve workers’ ability to cope using stress management tools, and called for more focus on treating burnout and encouraging a safe return to work.
It comes after figures published by NHS England last month revealed poor mental health remained the leading cause of staff sickness absences.
In February 2023, 24.6% of NHS staff sick days were down to anxiety, stress, depression and other psychiatric illnesses.
Author of the report, Professor 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.”
In June, analysis from Nuffield Trust showed a 5.6% average of sickness absences in NHS England in the 2022 calendar year compared to 4.3% in 2019, the year before the Covid-19 pandemic.
The organisation claims this equates to the loss of 75,000 staff, an increase of 29% over three years.
Dr Billy Palmer, a senior fellow at Nuffield Trust, said staff sickness is a “new normal” the “health service is grappling with”.
He added: “The increasing numbers taking time away from work feeds into a seemingly unsustainable cycle of increased work leading to burnout and then more people choosing to leave.”
Nick Pahl, chief executive of the SOM, said: “The NHS workforce plan’s aim is to reduce the overall leaver rate for NHS-employed staff from 9.1% (2022) to between 7.4% and 8.2% over the next 15 years.
“This can only occur by investing in occupational health – reversing burnout, tackling root causes, so that NHS staff can return to work well. SOM is committed to working with Government and the NHS to meet these challenges head-on.”