Nurses and midwives ‘at high risk of burnout and bullying in the workplace’

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Working conditions for nurses and midwives pose a significant threat to their mental health, which could worsen due to the pandemic, a review has found.

The Society of Occupational Medicine (SOM) reviewed the mental health and wellbeing of nurses and midwives in the UK before the coronavirus (Covid-19) crisis.

Among its findings, published in a report on 16 July, it identified the high risk of work-related stress, mental health problems and burnout in the professions.

SOM warned that these problems are likely to have risen further due to the pandemic, as many are “at high risk of post-traumatic stress symptoms and are experiencing moral distress”.

It estimated that 30% to 40% of nurses and midwives experience symptoms of burnout and found an increased prevalence of suicide among female nurses that is “greater than that of the general working population”.

The report said nurses and midwives are at high risk of harassment and bullying, particularly staff from Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) backgrounds, who are “more than twice as likely to be discriminated against by a manager or colleague”.

It found a high prevalence of nurses and midwives working while sick due to a number of factors, including high demand, staff shortages and feelings of duty to patients and colleagues.

While the report recognised that NHS managers are responsible for implementing stress policies in the workplace, there was some evidence that they “lack knowledge of initiatives to manage work-related stress”.

It continued: “The main causes of work-related stress and burnout for nurses and midwives are organisational factors such as high workload and lack of support.”

SOM president Professor Anne Harriss said: “The report clearly highlights the lack of knowledge and training of managers to deal with the high level of stress experienced by nurses and midwives.

“For example, many ward managers receive minimal, if any, training regarding the impact of shift work on the health of staff.

“This knowledge is essential when planning staffing rotas to mitigate any possible negative impact on health.”

More than 10% of nurses have left the NHS in the past three years and there are around 40,000 vacant posts in England, according to the report.

Among its 45 recommendations, SOM highlighted the need to address high work demands, poor leadership, lack of resourcing and workplace bullying as a key priority.

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