NHS staff at risk of burnout amid strikes

Beckett Frith
Beckett Frith

Senior Content Officer, Mental Health at Work

As junior doctors strike over pay, a report from the Society of Occupational Medicine (SOM) The Society of Occupational Medicine The Society of Occupational Medicine is an organisation for professionals with an interest in occupational health. View organisation highlights how NHS staff are at risk of worsening mental wellbeing due to the difficulties of working in healthcare.


NHS staff are at risk of their physical and mental health being damaged due to burnout, a new report claims​Burnout in healthcare: risk factors and solutions PDF This report from the Society of Occupational Medicine explores the signs of potential burnout, suggests ways NHS organisations can prevent burnout in their staff, and offers practical advice for supporting somebody already experiencing it.Free By: The Society of Occupational Medicine View resource.

SOM’s research found that NHS England experienced an absence rate of 5.6% in 2022 – the equivalent of losing nearly 75,000 staff to illness – with burnout a considerable factor in those lost days.

Burnout​Burnout in the digital age: how to avoid workplace stress Web page Stress is something that affects almost all of us at some point in our working lives. This web page from Ben explores stress and burnout, explaining what they are, how work can impact them, and the warning signs to look out for in yourself and others.Free By: Ben View resource is a state of physical and emotional exhaustion. It can leave those experiencing it feeling frustrated, angry, disengaged from their job, and unable to perform at their best. Some people may also develop headaches, poor sleep​Sleep enablers and preventers PDF This one-page PDF offers advice on what behaviours can help you to have a good night's sleep, and which habits you might want to change.Free By: Unilever View resource, and start relying on unhealthy habits​How much is too much? Know your alcohol limits Web page Stress and anxiety can cause our use of alcohol to increase, and it's sadly all too easy to miss the signs that your drinking habits have become problematic. This might be even more of an issue for the fire service than it is for other industries.Free By: The Fire Fighters Charity View resource to cope.

54% of doctors displayed signs of emotional exhaustion

According to the 2022 NHS workforce survey, more than a third of healthcare staff reported feeling burned-out at work. Staff in clinical roles were found to be most vulnerable. Further data shows that 54% of doctors displayed signs of emotional exhaustion, and nearly 40% of nurses ‘often’ or ‘always’ felt burned-out at work.

Risk factors for burnout include long working hours, low levels of support from managers, and poorly managed change​Coping with change PDF Change in the workplace is often inevitable, but the impact it can have upon employees will differ. This guide helps managers guide their staff through stressful periods of change.Free By: RBS Group View resource. While burnout can affect people in any industry, it is particularly prevalent in healthcare due to the need for staff to be constantly focused on the needs of others.

A nurse takes a moment alone in a hospital

“Burnout is an extremely serious matter that impacts workplaces across Britain, but it is a particular problem in healthcare settings,” says Professor Gail Kinman, the author of the report. “We know that doctors, nurses, and other healthcare professionals​Supporting the mental health of NHS staff – webinar Video The coronavirus pandemic presented the NHS workforce's biggest ever challenge, with huge impacts on staff mental health and wellbeing. This webinar has practical advice for discussing mental health, and introduces new resources to help.Free By: Mind View resource are more likely than most to experience burnout and therefore it is vitally important that we take urgent action.”

A strike can add to feelings of anxiety and stress

The report comes as junior doctors across England stage a strike over pay​Financial wellbeing Web page COVID-19 has brought unexpected financial challenges to many households. If you're worried your employees may be struggling this guide can help.Free By: NHS England and NHS Improvement View resource, with senior doctors also planning a walk-out later in July.

“Uncertainty and disruption to our routines, such as a strike, can add to feelings of anxiety and stress,” says Andrew Berrie, Head of Workplace Wellbeing at Mind. “If you are currently on strike, or planning to be soon, remember to take some time​Creating a 10-minute Pause Space Web page This guide is designed to help team leaders to run a short session, called a 'Pause Space', which allows staff to take some time to relax, reflect on their work, and show appreciation for their colleagues.Free By: NHS England and NHS Improvement View resource to look after your mental wellbeing. Try to find time to relax, and take part in some hobbies or interests you enjoy. Taking a break from the news might also help you to feel less anxious.

Most of all – be kind to yourself. Different things will work for different people, and finding something that works for you can make a big difference to your mental wellbeing.”

A man walks his dog in a peaceful forest

When it comes to improving conditions for NHS staff, the SOM report suggests line managers should be trained on spotting the signs of burnout so staff can be supported before it seriously affects their lives. Additionally, more should be done to correct the conditions that lead to burnout in the first place – such as fostering a workplace culture where showing vulnerability is not stigmatised, and where self-compassion​How can I help myself? Web page Sometimes, little changes in your behaviour, thoughts, lifestyle or focus can make a big difference to your wellbeing. These pages from Mind have a range of suggestions.Free By: Mind View resource is encouraged.

Occupational health is so important in fighting burnout in healthcare

SOM CEO Nick Pahl said SOM is committed to working with the Government and the NHS to meet these challenges head-on.

“This new report outlines in detail why universal occupational health​Occupational health: the value proposition PDF Only a minority of the UK workforce can access a comprehensive occupational health service. This guide clearly lays out the business case for an occupational health strategy.Free By: The Society of Occupational Medicine View resource is so important in fighting burnout in healthcare,” he says. “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.”

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