New year – same stresses for NHS staff

A couple of weeks into 2022 and we’re seeing the NHS again stretched past breaking point. It’s only the inspirational work of health workers, UNISON members, that’s keeping the service going.

Day after day we’re hearing the terrible toll that Omicron is taking on health staff.

NHS workers report that short-staffing – a problem long before Covid that we’ve been fighting to put right – has never been worse.

Those still at work are worried about being redeployed to areas they don’t have the expertise in. It’s not just worrying for redeployed staff – they’re naturally worried about the effect it has on their patients too and many are concerned they won’t be able to provide the care patients need.

No wonder that it’s not just the virus itself causing people to go off sick. Rising numbers are off with stress and other mental health problems caused by being so thoroughly burnt out.

And trust bosses’ attempts to overcome the crisis aren’t always helping. Sick staff report being chased up to return to work while those in work are being urged to cancel their annual leave or take on extra shifts.

Such short-term solutions may save the next shift but they’ll damage the health service in the long term. A UNISON survey before Omicron hit found that 54% of health staff were actively looking for a new job. It’s hard to imagine many will have changed their minds after fighting this latest variant.

Every time Covid swamps the health service, waiting lists for other services get longer. Once we get over the latest peak staff will see a six million-strong waiting list on the horizon that must be tackled next.

Training new staff will take years, while health bosses’ other strategy of touting for staff abroad has been seriously undermined by our government’s insistence on being as unwelcome to foreigners as possible.

While long-term investment is vital, staff need a big boost now. After last year’s below-inflation pay rise, NHS workers will need a bumper rise soon to convince them to stay.