The head of a major healthcare organisation has suggested that staffing problems in the NHS should be considered an even more pressing issue than the financial travails of the health service.
Nigel Edwards, chief executive of the Nuffield Trust think tank, believes that staff shortages combined with ongoing disputes with central government represent a toxic mixture.
Edwards suggests that if the existing situation does not improve, the level of affection that many members of staff currently feel for the NHS will dissipate significantly.
“Once the psychological contract with staff is broken, it may be impossible to reverse,” Edwards added.
2016 has been particularly notable for the ongoing dispute between junior doctors and the government, with evidence suggesting that NHS employees are ready to vote against the deal recently brokered by the British Medical Association.
Meanwhile, nurses and midwives have been protesting about plans to scrap the bursaries they receive during periods of study.
The financial problems of the NHS have also been well documented, with the government already demanding £22 billion worth of efficiency savings from the health service by the end of the decade.
This comes in a climate in which NHS trusts have already accumulated deficit in excess of £2.5 billion in the most recent financial year.
Yet last month, a report by the Public Accounts Committee warned the NHS was short of about 50,000 staff out of a frontline workforce of just over 800,000.
Siva Anandaciva, of NHS Providers, which represents NHS trusts, offered solidarity with the opinion of Edwards, indicating that the mentality of staff in the NHS was perhaps not at its most positive currently.
“This is a pivotal time for the NHS, with extreme financial and capacity challenges putting extra pressure on staff. Perhaps inevitably, staff morale can take a battering.”
This issue was highlighted by the most recent staff survey in the NHS, with only 31% of those responding indicating that the levels of stuffing are currently adequate in the health service.
The Nuffield Trust also pointed to feedback it has received from health managers warning about deteriorating morale and uncontrollable growth in workload.
A Department of Health spokeswoman, though, suggested that the surve provided evidence indicating that the morale and mentality of NHS staff shows signs of improvement.
“Good leadership is the single most critical ingredient to raising morale in any team. We also see that the best hospitals combine tight financial grip, an unrelenting focus on improving patient care and high levels of staff engagement.”
The Nuffield Trust is a charitable trust with the mission of improving health care in the UK through evidence and analysis.
It was established in December 1939 as the Nuffield Provincial Hospitals Trust, with the overarching aim of coordinating the activities of all hospitals operating outside London.
The trust is often credited with inspiring the creation of the NHS.