Mental stress is something that medical professionals may struggle to cope with in a post-Covid 19 world. Here are the 5 key warning signs to look out for…
As cases of Covid 19 begin to fall, hospitals across the UK will be refocusing their efforts to return to a normal service – and this return to normality can’t come soon enough for many people.
NHS England recently reported that 239,088 fewer ‘admitted pathways’ were completed in the NHS in April 2020 than in the same month last year – that’s a staggering drop of 85%. It shows in the clearest possible terms that hundreds of thousands of people have been left waiting for non-urgent or elective treatment while the NHS has responded to the threat of Covid 19.
This patient backlog isn’t going to be something that can be quickly resolved – in fact, it’s expected that by the end of this year, there will be as many as 10 million people on NHS waiting lists for elective and non-urgent care.
For an already shattered health service, there’s certainly no rest bite on the horizon, and this raises an important question: How can we ensure that the medical professionals who care for us, are also cared for?
RECOGNISING THE SIGNS OF SUFFERING FROM MENTAL STRESS
Despite the immense mental pressures of fighting against a global pandemic, many medical professionals will still be committed to carrying out their duties to the best of their abilities and helping the NHS on its’ road to recovery. However, many will be suffering in silence from the mental stresses of dealing with a national crisis, and their mental health could be put under further pressure from the urgent need to return to a ‘normal’ service.
This is where everyone who works in healthcare needs to be acutely aware of the signs of mental stress. It’s often not easy for people to come forward and talk about their mental health; and while great strides have been made to remove the stigma, fears of losing their job, their reputation or a simple unwillingness to talk are all key barriers to people sharing how they’re really feeling.
So, given that healthcare staff may be unwilling or unsure about approaching their employers or colleagues about the state of their mental wellness, how can you spot the hidden signs of mental stress?
1. INCREASED WORKLOADS
The National Health Service is a 24/7, 365 operation – quiet days simply don’t exist! But when doctors’ and nurses’ workloads are extremely high and consistently remain high, it can lead to medical professionals overworking and simply ‘burning out’.
A good indication that may highlight someone is stressed about their patient workloads is when they have a never-ending list of administrative tasks or consistent blockers that lead to further delays for patients. Stress caused by the seemingly never-ending workload, or simply the constant flurry of patients to care for and move onto the next task can be incredibly damaging long-term.
Whilst the issue of large heavy workloads in the National Health Service are of course nothing new, the stress it causes can go left unchecked and, at its most extreme, cause stressful situations to soar out of control into more serious mental illnesses.
2. LACK OF PATIENT OR COLLEAGUE ENGAGEMENT
Regardless of the industry you work in, continually stressed-out workers will often begin to lose engagement with their job or employers. For health workers, this can be a serious problem as it can also lead to patient care being negatively affected and a constant revolving door of staff.
The most obvious signs of this can be health workers who’ll perhaps be continually late or absent to their shifts, to more extreme examples – such as a total disinterest in their patient’s concerns and wellbeing or their colleagues around them.
If you’re noticing disengaged healthcare workers within your trust, there will be underlying reasons behind it which shouldn’t just be ignored or put down to busy shifts.
It may be the case you need to relieve their workloads with a trusted outsourcing provider or take a more hands-on approach to their wellbeing – regardless, it’s your duty to discover what the problems are and work towards solving them before the quality of patient care is affected.
3. ABSENT OR EVER-PRESENT STAFF
NHS staff have been working tirelessly to maintain exceptional levels of patient care; but the levels we’ve been seeing of late are simply not sustainable long-term if staff are facing increased mental stress.
Your health workers may find that the increased mental pressures they’ve been experiencing means they don’t have sufficient energy or interest to face continued long, tiring shifts week in, week out. If staff phoning in sick or having to cover shifts at short notice is becoming a regular occurrence, then it may be a giant red flag indicating a far bigger problem that goes beyond physical wellbeing.
At the other end of the spectrum, you may also see more pronounced signs of presenteeism within your hospital workforce. This can be to a number of reasons; the never-ending workloads we mentioned earlier, lack of sufficient staff cover or simply the desire not to be seen as a slacker! In these cases, your staff may feel uncomfortable talking about their mental health, so looking for the warning signs is genuinely important.
Whatever the reason, the idea of ‘soldiering on’ through illness shouldn’t be encouraged – especially in a healthcare environment. A medical professional who’s working when they’re not feeling fully 100% can be just as damaging as an absent worker.
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4. NEGATIVE BEHAVIOURS
Mental stress has a knack of bringing out the worse in people’s personalities; so if your hospital’s staff are behaving negatively towards each other, it could be because they’re suffering from mental stress.
Negative behaviours can manifest themselves in many forms, such as colleagues becoming easily annoyed when faced with normal everyday tasks, an increase in complaints about behaviour from colleagues or at worst, a decline in the levels of care offered to patients.
Negative behaviours can easily ruin a medical professional’s life but can also extend beyond the workplace, too. If a colleague is taking their stress home after their shift ends, it may be also damaging their personal lives and relationships.
5. STAFF TURNOVER
Finally, whilst employees coming and going at a hospital is of course not unusual, the length of time they stay in a role or with a trust is a good indication of whether or not a hospital’s staff culture is in good health.
Doctors and nurses face more pressure than the average employee; so ensuring they have a good work-life balance is absolutely essential. And remember, your employees’ experience of working at your trust won’t be a secret – they’ll most likely share their experiences with friend and colleagues! So, if their feedback is overwhelmingly negative, you may find it difficult to attract the medical professionals your trust really needs.
Stress is of course part and parcel of working in healthcare – but it should never be an overriding experience.
TIME TO RELIEVE SOME OF THE PRESSURE ON YOUR NHS STAFF?
As the UK’s largest and most trusted clinical services provider, we have three comprehensive solutions to assist your hospital trust in all areas of staffing; reducing patient waiting times and relieving the mental pressures from hard-working hospital staff.
ID Medical Clinical services are already operating across several NHS trusts and Health boards, providing:
- Insourcing services for diagnostics and elective care
- Clean site locations for outpatient services
- Digitalisation and Virtual Services
… And that’s just the start.