The Health Service Journal (HSJ) reported over the weekend that one in three NHS staff in London could be forced off work by the New Year as the Omicron variant spreads rapidly throughout the capital.
This comes as internal NHS monitoring figures show that Covid-19 related staff absences in London had more than doubled in just four days.
Patricia Marquis, the Royal College of Nursing’s England director, has stated that such a situation “would be catastrophic”. Speaking to Radio 4, she added “The workforce is already short, the workforce is already exhausted – mentally and physically – so the prospect of that just must fill everybody on the frontline, and the public, with real concern, because the NHS just has to be able to cope with emergency and urgent care in order for the public to feel safe.”
Winter is already the most challenging time of year for the NHS, and with the new variant arriving in time for the Christmas period, there are serious concerns around staffing capacity and the ability of the NHS to cope with another surge in demand. Several MPs have warned that the future of the NHS is at risk, with ‘burnout’ amongst NHS and social care staff reaching an emergency level. This is echoed by the 92% of trusts that have told NHS Providers they are concerned about staff wellbeing, stress levels and burnout in the wake of the pandemic.
The NHS was already under-resourced prior to the pandemic and many staff are simply unable to cope with the additional pressures brought about by the pandemic. 26% of those leaving the NHS are now citing a lack of work-life balance as contributing to their departure. Healthcare workers are becoming burnt out by the “moral distress” of not being able to properly care for patients in a resource-constrained environment. Perhaps this explains why 60% of junior doctors and 55% of nurses are contemplating leaving the NHS.
Without immediate action, the National Health Service is on the verge of an irreversible mass exodus of staff.
What needs to be done? In the immediate future, there needs to be greater support, particularly for those working on the frontline. A survey carried out by The Foundation, a charity created by NHS workers, learned that there is a ‘worrying gap’ between the amount of support that is perceived to be in place and what is actually in place. During the first wave of Covid-19, a number of “wellbeing hubs” were set up to provide staff with psychological support. However, many of these have since been closed. Reopening these hubs would be a good starting point.
Whilst no one could have anticipated the last two years, the staffing problem has been staring us in the face for years. The staff shortage has reached approximately 100,000 workers, and as such a long-term, sustainable solution needs to be developed. Digital transformation and the modernisation of outdated, incumbent processes is likely to be at the heart of this. One such technology that will be central to transforming current operations is Intelligent Automation (IA). IA is capable of emulating certain human actions to carry out manual, time-intensive, administrative tasks, 24 hours per day, 7 days per week. Integrating this technology into NHS organisations to boost efficiency will support staff by freeing them from the tasks that slow them down as well as filling some of the gaps that are appearing in relation to the staff shortage crisis.
It is important to celebrate the amazing work the NHS continues to carry out in the face of adversity. Over the coming weeks, NHS workers will keep working over Christmas to care for the public, whilst most of the UK population is at home enjoying the festivities. We must recognise this – but it is even more essential that we provide substantial support to staff and implement a modern-workforce model that secures the long-term future of the NHS.
Lexmark recently sponsored a series of on-demand webinars created for NHS staff, that covered Beating Burnout, Energy Management and Dealing with Fear and Uncertainty. These 45-minute sessions delivered by Jules Wyman, a confidence coach that has worked with all levels of NHS staff for more than a decade, pragmatic approaches to busy schedules. If you work within the NHS, please feel free to register and share these free sessions with colleagues using the following link: NHS mental health and wellbeing webinars (lexmark.com)
e18 Consulting is a consultancy business that specialises in delivering digital transformation for NHS Trusts. If you are interested in having a conversation to discuss how we can support your trust to implement RPA technology, please reach out either directly on LinkedIn or via email: email@example.com