Who cares for the carers? HCSA hospital doctors' stress survey reveals shocking results

We will be releasing the statistics in full next week, but below is our initial response to the findings:

More than 800 consultants and specialists responded in order to be able to relate their experiences of life on the front line.

The results are stark – painting a bleak picture of relentless and rising stress, pressure from senior management, relationship breakdown and ill-health among consultants. Against the backdrop of the government push for a ‘cost neutral’ shift to seven-day hospital services the findings are more worrying still. They also suggest a potential, highly damaging exodus of experienced consultants, with more than eight in 10 respondents revealing that the current levels of stress had caused them to re-evaluate their retirement plans.

HCSA has publicly stated that it is In Favour of A Safe Seven-Day Service for the NHS. As part of that campaign we have identified three major areas of concern by which any proposals should be measured - safety, fairness and work-life balance.

Hospital doctors, like all NHS employees, are not super-human. Nor should they be forced to sacrifice the basics of family and recovery time because of well-intentioned, but hastily conceived, plans that fail to acknowledge the additional resources seven-day services will require.

This research underlines our fear that any attempt to rush through changes to the consultants’ contract, not least without an acknowledgement of the pre-existing levels of stress and pressures driving this, risk causing serious damage to an increasingly overwhelmed hospital workforce.

That can only have a negative impact on patient outcomes and the reputation of our world-class health services.

A Trades Union Congress motion tabled by HCSA on the stresses facing hospital doctors notes:

“From continuous battles with waiting time targets in A&E to the funding crisis that is seeing many senior doctors reaching for the exit door to either retire or work overseas, stress amongst talented lifesaving doctors is continuing to impact on our NHS.

“Consultant workload has been continuously increasing and the pressure to care for an ever-increasing patient caseload is causing some consultants’ mental health to be impacted. Depression, anxiety and stress are the most prevalent reasons for sickness absence amongst hospital consultants and specialists.

“The health and well-being of all NHS staff should be a top priority, but time after time NHS organisations either fail to see the signs or do not know what to look for.

“Stress amongst senior doctors in hospitals is just not taken seriously, to the detriment of the doctor and the patients.”

The issue can no longer be ignored. That is why HCSA is urging the government and employers to work with us to determine a strategy that will safeguard all medical staff, and pressing to ensure that the outcome of any changes to the consultants’ contract acknowledge the backdrop against which they would take place.

Across the country seven days a week NHS staff do amazing work that continues to be recognised as world-class, going above and beyond the call of duty to care for patients.

The question we now need to ask is, who cares for the carers?