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Healthcare / Workforce

Burden on UK health workers could sway a fifth to exit service after crisis ends

By Andrew Sansom 24 Apr 2020 0

The COVID-19 pandemic has made more than one in five UK healthcare workers more inclined to leave their post once the crisis is over, a major survey has revealed.

The poll of almost 1000 UK healthcare professionals was carried out by the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) and YouGov. Its findings suggest that after the pandemic, the National Health Service in England may risk losing the equivalent of 300,000 vital workers for a number of reasons, such as mental and physical health, childcare and job security.  

The IPPR warns that urgent action must be taken to ensure that healthcare capacity is not impacted for years after the end of the crisis. It is calling on government to do much more to help health professionals cope through these stressful times.

Severe strain

The polling reveals that healthcare professionals have significant and diverse needs, which are not being supported properly during the COVID-19 crisis:

Half of healthcare workers said their mental health had deteriorated since the crisis began. The psychological impact was greatest on younger workers (aged 18 to 34), with as many as 71 per cent reporting a worsening of their mental health. As many as a third also reported a decline in their physical health since the start of the crisis. And half of healthcare workers said the Government had not done enough to protect their families’ health.

Of those aged 35 to 44 – the age group most likely to have children – roughly a third said childcare had become a problem. And a third of those working in private-sector roles in the health service, such as agency workers and subcontractors, said they were less secure in their jobs since the crisis began.

Women were more likely to have experienced detrimental impacts on their life during COVID-19 (89 per cent) compared to men (83 per cent). Impacts were also sometimes higher in London, where the pressures on the health service may be more acute.

In a separate poll of the general public, 96 per cent agreed government should introduce more support for healthcare workers’ physical health, and 95 per cent backed more support for mental health; 88 per cent were also in favour of more generous pay and leave entitlements for healthcare employees.

Care Fit for Carers – five guarantees

The polling informs a new IPPR report, ‘Care fit for carers’, which proposes a comprehensive support package for frontline “heroes of the coronavirus”, mirroring the ambition of the post-World War 1 drive to deliver “homes fit for heroes”. 

The think tank sets out five key guarantees for carers it wants to see acted on:

  • A Safety Guarantee – The Government must do everything in its power to ensure PPE supply to health and social care workers through this crisis. It must also urgently make progress on testing health and care workers.
  • An Accommodation Guarantee – No one should face housing or accommodation insecurity while working on the coronavirus frontline. Government should expand the offer of free hotel accommodation and provide grants to cover rental arrears during the crisis period.
  • A Mental Health Guarantee – The Government must ensure workers’ mental health is safeguarded by extending access to priority specialist therapy to nurses, midwives, ambulance staff, clinical support staff and those working in social care.
  • A Pay Guarantee – The Government must ensure everyone in the sector has adequate pay to meet the cost of living, and recognise their skill and effort through a number of means, including among others: guaranteeing people their full salary if they fall ill; and paying a one-off COVID-19 bonus of 10 per cent for all workers in health and care for 2020–21.
  • A Care Guarantee – The Government must prioritise key workers by funding more free childcare provision, and by prioritising their dependents in community support, such as nurseries and creches.

The report also recommends a new bank holiday to celebrate health and care workers. 

Chris Thomas, IPPR health research fellow and lead author of the report, said: “Care Fit for Carers is about giving the heroes of the coronavirus pandemic the protection, support and security they need. No one should have to put their health at risk because PPE is lacking. No one should face a mental health crisis because no support was there. And no one should face financial destitution while delivering our crisis response.”

Harry Quilter-Pinner, IPPR senior research fellow and head of the Better Health and Care programme, called on government to take bold action to protect healthcare workers’ health, safety and welfare, not only on providing access to PPE and testing but in providing access to counselling and decent pay. 

Professor Martin Green OBE, chief executive of Care England, added: “If there is one thing that this dreadful pandemic has shown us it is that the social care workforce is our greatest resource. Never again must social care be the underdog. Social care must retain its rightful status, which will therefore necessitate adequate resourcing, funding and status.”