An NHS hospital employee says that reforms are creating a culture of fear about jobs, affecting morale and increasing stress-related illnesses among staff
“I work in a laboratory for the healthcare sciences division in an NHS trust providing support, such as processing patients’ samples, to front line medical staff across a number of hospitals. Every day I come into contact with doctors, nurses, patients and other workers in administration and the laboratories.
In recent years a great deal of upheaval has been affecting services and staff morale. Most disruptive have been NHS budget cuts over the past two years, made in order to save £20bn and use it to reprioritise healthcare spending.
Some hospitals have been closing wards, accident and emergency units and laboratories, and these services are being transferred to other locations. This has dramatically increased the workload for staff in the hospitals where they have to take on these additional services.
Meanwhile, those who worked for services that have been shut must re-apply for their jobs, involving new roles and new job descriptions.
Budget cuts have created staff shortages, and this in turn puts more pressure on existing employees who are fighting to get through a growing backlog of work. We are also having to cope with inadequate machinery, as the laboratory technology is in dire need of updating, and this exacerbates the problem. Most of the job training is inadequate and there has been a loss of some skilled staff who cannot easily be replaced. Others feel that they have no choice but to accept unsociable working hours and to put in more overtime to complete the backlog of work.
Initially the managers relied on natural wastage to reduce personnel numbers, but that no longer looks possible as it leaves staffing levels dangerously low. So, hospital managers are trying to come up with ways to improve the system, in order to meet their targets with a limited budget. However, this is difficult, and often it means that we have to make sacrifices by working unconventional shift patterns.
The plan is to move to a 24-hour healthcare sciences service with the allocation of night work. At the moment this is done on a voluntary basis, with on-call staff covering the night shifts. Eventually it will become compulsory and a part of a standard shift pattern with no increase in rates of pay. Understandably this will have a heavy impact on staff as many are not able to take on night work, some have medical conditions, children or elderly relatives to care for.
Workers are not kept informed and management seem to change their minds on a day-to-day basis about different ways to improve processes and work practices. They do not think of the consequences of their actions and do not have the ability to foresee the problems that may arise from their decisions.
There is a general atmosphere of discontent across the hospitals and a worry that, with the increased pressure in the working environment there could be more cases of human error and poor patient care.
Before these changes were introduced, employees were settled, they knew their job roles and could complete their work efficiently with adequate staffing levels. Future plans are causing further worry. Many are concerned about changes to the pay structure and the possibility of being moved to a lower pay band. This is the same for everyone in healthcare sciences, as well as the nursing staff. Fears about being downgraded only add to the bad feelings in NHS hospitals and resentment that there are too many highly paid managers.
Recently there has been an increase in stress-related symptoms among staff and more cases of absenteeism because of stress-related sickness. It is shocking to see that some staff are on medication as a result. The pressure and worry about the amount of work placed upon individuals is having a negative impact on their performance. Morale is at an all-time low and I cannot see it improving as the cutbacks continue.
But staff are doing their best to conform to the changes, working hard and trying to reach targets while maintaining high standards. Our priority is still patient care, and with many staff working overtime the workload has eased somewhat of late. While budget cuts are causing us huge difficulties, hopefully they will at least save money, and – in the longer term – benefit patients.”