Hospital Dr News

NHS Backlog: clinicians are being forced to work overtime often unpaid

Thousands of doctors and nursing staff say they feel under pressure from employers to work extra shifts, often unpaid.

Some doctors say they are already exhausted and fear that they will be pressured to do extra shifts without adequate rest to help reduce the huge backlog of patients needing treatment in NHS hospitals.

Over half of the doctors surveyed by the BMA in the UK had worked extra hours (58.1%), with around a third of them (28.5%) reporting that these hours were unpaid.

Nearly half (44.2%) of the 5,500 doctors who responded felt pressured by their employer to do extra hours, while over a third (36%) had either skipped taking full breaks altogether or taken them on rare occasions.

This has left staff exhausted with nearly 60% of doctors reporting a higher-than-normal level of fatigue or exhaustion.

These experiences are also echoed among registered nurses (RNs) and nursing support workers as figures from the Royal College of Nursing’s survey of members’ experience of the pandemic.

In July 2020, one third of nursing staff in all sectors reported they are working longer hours. Of these, 40% of respondents are not being paid for the additional hours, with a further 18% only sometimes being paid.

Meanwhile, the latest NHS England staff survey found that over 65% of RNs and a third (30.4%) of nursing support workers worked extra hours that were unpaid.  

Dr Chaand Nagpaul, BMA council chair, said: “To learn that an already depleted and now exhausted workforce feels forced into doing more and more hours, with many reporting higher levels of fatigue than ever, is extremely worrying. It is putting them at risk and their patients. Working ‘flat out’ without a change to rest and recuperate is simply unsustainable and unsafe.

“Far too many colleagues across the NHS are experiencing unacceptable levels of exhaustion while being pressured to work extra shifts, and this needs to be addressed as a matter of urgency. Governments should be doing all they can to ensure staff have an opportunity to rest and reset – no one should feel pressured to take the NHS backlogs on a goodwill basis.”

Exhausted staff

Royal College of Nursing Acting Chief Executive and General Secretary, Pat Cullen, said: “Exhausted health and care staff, without whom we would not have turned the tide of the pandemic, must be supported to recover.

“We cannot return to the understaffed wards, care homes and clinics from before the pandemic. Investment in staffing and pay is about both patient safety and the health of our workers.”

They’re calling for the government to:

•             Prioritising protecting the health, safety, and mental wellbeing of the workforce;

•             Providing the service with additional resourcing dedicated to helping to tackle NHS backlogs;

•             Ensuring that staff with signs of stress have access to a rapid referral, including self-referral, independent specialist occupational physician-led service;

•             Expanding the healthcare system’s capacity; and

•             Putting measures in place expand the medical workforce.

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