Fat, unfit, smoking NHS staff top the sick league
The first national audit of staff habits has found that high rates of obesity, smoking, absenteeism and poor mental health are having a direct impact on the quality of patient care.
Dr Steve Boorman, a leading occupational health expert, was asked by the Government to assess links between staff habits and NHS productivity. His findings are drawn from six months of staff surveys, workshops, data reviews and responses from trusts and experts.
— More than 45,000 NHS workers are calling in sick every day, one and a half times the rate of absence in the private sector. Reducing the 10.3 million working days lost per year by a third would save the NHS £555 million annually.
— More than a third of the workforce are in moderate to very poor mental health, with many expressing concern about intimidation from patients and their relatives
— Hospitals with worse staff health are less productive and have higher rates of superbug infection, unnecessary use of agency workers and higher patient mortality rates. More than three-quarters of staff believe that the state of their health affects patient care.
— About 40 per cent undertake exercise less than the Government’s three recommended occasions a week.
Steve Boorman, told The Times that staff health in the NHS — the largest single employer in Europe — must become a core standard on which all trusts are judged annually by the health regulator. Hospitals which fail key standards, assessed by the Care Quality Commission, will face sanctions including fines and suspension of services from next April.
Describing health awareness within the workforce as “very inconsistent”, Dr Boorman, the chief medical adviser to the Royal Mail and a former GP, said a clear correlation had emerged between the performance of hospitals and staff health.
The review found high standards in some trusts — with hospital gyms and help for staff to stop smoking and lose weight — but other areas where health was a very low priority. The report concludes that there must be a complete NHS culture change to make workforce health “the responsibility of every single member of staff”.
“The key finding of this review is that health and wellbeing of staff is very important to the quality of patient care, and there are good reasons for prioritising investment in it,” said Dr Boorman. “It is ironic that the NHS is trying to focus on the public health agenda, yet not making it available to its own staff, because staff should be exemplars.”