The NHS is an “occupational health hazard”, doctors warned during a debate heard by the King’s Fund about plummeting NHS morale.
Clare Gerada, medical director of the NHS Practitioner Health Programme told the King’s Fund annual conference that the health service “we love and revere is making us sick”.
Dr Gerada, also a GP and member of BMA council, said some staff were developing a condition similar to post-traumatic stress disorder. “The NHS is an occupational health hazard. The levels of trauma and stress we are seeing is very poor.
“The causes are a sense of not belonging, of not being respected, of moral disconnect. And everyone here knows the bottom line is the financial needs of our institution will trump your need and the needs of your patients.”
She said staff that reported stress and illness had told her they needed the “sense of people caring for you”. Unless the problems were dealt with, she said, they could destroy the NHS.
Royal College of Physicians of London president Jane Dacre said it was a tragedy that the NHS was unable to be “greater as a whole than the sum of its parts” – but that a huge amount of that was down to staff morale.
She said: “The feeling I get is staff get joy from their patients but they don’t get joy from the NHS. That little bit seems to be lost. Perhaps one way [to change things] is by reconnecting with why we went into medicine.
“We went into it with a sense of altruism, with wanting to be communicators, having an interest in biological things and it was a vocation. Somehow that magic of being a healthcare worker has been lost.”
She added: “One of the big issues is what has been happening in the last year with morale of the workforce.
“Can’t we just remember to say thank you to the patients for being great and inspiring and to our colleagues for doing a great job. We need to value each other and tell trainees that they’ve done a great job. They don’t feel valued.
“We do need to be transparent and that’s getting better but we do it in a bad way not a good way. We need to be transparent about how fantastic a job our colleagues did, rather than just the bad things that happen. We need to remember to value each other.”
Royal College of Surgeons president Clare Marx said: “I want to focus on workforce morale. It’s occurred to me that we’ve lost the niceties of dealing with each other.
“My suggestion is we might want to think about a ‘hello my name is’ [the initiative which asked staff to introduce themselves to patients run by the late Kate Granger] drive for staff – we did it for patients and it was immensely successful. It’s so important. There are things that would cost no money at all that we could all do.”
She added: “When I reflect on what I see around the country those hospitals where people are making genuine effort to empower their staff to actually listen to them and accept their thought about how they can get changes are making real progress.
“In a hospital in Liverpool they have paired junior doctors with junior managers and they talk and discuss ideas and they are really seeing the sort of change they need. The ideas come from junior doctors and are energised by junior managers.”