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New report by Birkbeck academics urges introduction of new strategies to prevent burnout in healthcare workers

The report drew on research data from a wide variety of sources and found that doctors, nurses and care workers are particularly prone to experiencing burnout.

An ambulance with the rear doors open showing the inside of the vehicle. Two medics sit on the edge of the ambulance looking tired, one has their head in their hands.

Poor mental health is the leading cause of staff sickness absences in the NHS, and the 2022 NHS workforce survey found that more than a third of healthcare staff feel burned-out at work, with staff in clinical roles found to be most vulnerable.

Professor Gail Kinman and Dr Kevin Teoh have co-authored a report for the Society of Occupational Medicine (SOM) providing recommendations for intervention, entitled 'Burnout in healthcare: risk factors and solutions.' The report identifies burnout as a state of physical and emotional exhaustion caused by excessive, prolonged, and untreated interpersonal workplace stress with symptoms such as emotional exhaustion, feelings of cynicism, detachment from the job and a sense of ineffectiveness which can have "serious implications for organisations and patients".

While there are current initiatives that aim to reduce the risk of burnout which focus on the individual, the report urges that new strategies must be introduced at institutional levels, and that more can be done when it comes to prevention.

The report calls for intervention at different stages throughout the healthcare sector, which includes ensuring workloads are manageable and adequate support is available to staff, as well as training managers in wellbeing. It also said more should be done to improve workers' ability to cope using stress management tools, and called for more focus on treating burnout and encouraging a safe return to work.

The report is timely, following the figures published by NHS England in June 2023 which revealed poor mental health remained the leading cause of staff sickness absences. In February 2023, 24.6% of NHS staff sick days were down to anxiety, stress, depression and other psychiatric illnesses.

Professor Kinman, commented: "Burnout is an extremely serious matter that impacts workplaces across Britain, but it is a particular problem in healthcare settings. We know that doctors, nurses, and other healthcare professionals are more likely than most to experience burnout and therefore it is vitally important that we take urgent action.

"There are compelling reasons for organisations to support the wellbeing of their employees. This report, which brings together a wealth of research and findings, recommends the real and practical steps that they can take in the fight against burnout to ensure healthcare staff remain healthy and motivated and that recruitment and retention are improved."

Dr Kevin Teoh added: "With so many healthcare workers struggling with burnout, and against the backdrop of wider workforce challenges that the sector is facing, this report highlights the need for a more systematic approach where healthcare providers, government, and other stakeholders work together to create a better, and heathier, work environment for those working in healthcare"

Nick Pahl, Chief Executive of the SOM, said: "The NHS workforce plan's aim is to reduce the overall leaver rate for NHS-employed staff from 9.1% (2022) to between 7.4% and 8.2% over the next 15 years. This can only occur by investing in occupational health – reversing burnout, tackling root causes, so that NHS staff can return to work well. SOM is committed to working with Government and the NHS to meet these challenges head-on."

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