Healthcare workers likely to leave the profession after COVID-19 pandemic is over

One in UK five health professionals said COVID-19 has made them more likely to leave the profession.

A new report by the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR), Care fit for carers, found the country’s healthcare workforce will face significant health, mental health and welfare challenges without bold action by the UK government and NHS England.

Almost three quarters of UK health workers said the UK government had not done enough to protect their health through prevention or priority testing and one in two workers said their mental health had declined in the last eight weeks.

Forty-two per cent said the government has not done enough to support their mental health and one in two have experienced detriment to their family’s safety.

The IPPR said the onus is now on governments across the UK to deliver “comprehensive support” for frontline staff both right now and as we move into a post-COVID-19 recovery.

It recommended five guarantees to help protect healthcare works. These were relating to: overall safety, accomodation, mental health, pay and care of other family members.

England’s healthcare workforce as it entered the COVID-19 crisis was already under great strain, with GP numbers at their lowest point since 2003, a nursing shortage of 40,000 and social care shortage of 110,000 in 2018.

Before the pandemic, 40.3% of NHS workers felt ill due to work related stress, which accounts for 30% of absences.

Now one in two said mental health should be a priority among the workforce.

One early career professional quoted in the report said: “In order to provide adequate cover rotas are no longer compliant with previous legal rules put in place. All of this is exhausting and over time is likely to cause burnout.

“There is a dread of coming to work because of how stressful it is likely to be and there is the anxiety/fear of knowing this is just the beginning and is likely to get worse and last several months. On top of this there is inadequate PPE which is causing a lot of anger.”

So far 27 NHS workers have died due to COVID-19.

IPPR research in 2018 showed that the average pay for a social care worker in England was just £9.14 – 28% lower than the median pay in the economy as a whole.

The report therefore recommended that frontline healthcare workers are granted a COVID-19 service pay award, equivalent to 10% of their salaries.

It also stated that social care work should receive parity of pay with NHS work.

In the report’s foreword, Lord Darzi, professor of surgery and chair of the Institute for Global Health Innovation at Imperial College, said: “If, as many politicians have suggested, this pandemic is comparable only to a war, then our health and care workers are the ones ‘in the trenches’.

“Getting PPE and testing right is the bare minimum frontline staff can expect from the government. This is because staff are also facing huge pressures on their mental health and wider welfare – including on housing, transport, childcare and pay – as well.”

Saffron Cordery, deputy chief executive of NHS Providers, said the health and wellbeing of staff is an absolute priority for trust leaders.

“It is extremely concerning to see that over 70% of healthcare professionals felt the government has not been doing enough to protect and test them, while there is also a worrying level of dissatisfaction in the availability of mental health support for staff, particularly among nurses and midwives.

“The government and national leaders should carefully consider the recommendations set out in this report as part of its efforts to improve trust with frontline staff on PPE supply and testing.”

The report is based on action the Westminster government could take in England, but may be applicable for devolved health systems.

Data was based on IPPR/YouGov polling of healthcare workers and the general public, an IPPR consultation and a literature review.