Stress and the NHS

15 December 2013

A recent survey of its members by the Royal College of Nursing Scotland (RCN Scotland) indicates the extent to which nurses' dedication and goodwill keeps the NHS in Scotland going and how this creates stress.

Just over half of those taking part indicated that they worked more than their contractual working hours each week to cope with demand, and that they were under sustained pressure which resulted in them being prevented them from providing the level of care for patients that they wanted to give.

As RCN Scotland commented :

" Nurses are expected to provide goodwill all year round, with many now working extra hours for free just to keep services going.

"Indeed when you hear stories of people not being paid for extra hours because they were not agreed in advance, or people are not able to take time back in lieu because to do so would mean leaving colleagues even more short staffed, it is apparent that health services are only managing to meet demand because of nurses willing to go the extra mile, for free."

Stress has been increased by the decision of the Scottish Government to cut the number of nursing staff in Scotland by some 2,000 posts over recent years .

At present, health boards are recruiting once again, but there are currently 1,700 vacancies for nursing staff across Scotland.

The RCN responded :

“While there have been some welcome increases in nursing staff numbers in recent months, this comes on the back of years of cuts coupled with ever-increasing demand for services.

"There is no doubt amongst our members that many areas are seriously understaffed which means that more nurses need to be recruited urgently or new ways found to deliver services."

It is of great concern that dedicated health service staff are themselves suffering from work-related stress.

Higher levels of stress on staff have resulted from the pressure of increased workloads, and less resources being made available to meet rising health care demands.

Greater investment in improving the quality of the health service and the quality of patient care is required so as to improve the health of NHS staff.

 * A Freedom of Information request submitted to NHS Tayside has revealed that over 126,000 working hours were lost amongst all categories of staff between April and September of this year through " anxiety, stress, depression and other psychiatric illnesses"

This accounted for almost a quarter of the total number of hours lost under all categories of sickness absence in that 6 month period.