18 June 2021

Health and social care burnout

There was little surprise last week when an MP’s report detailed the levels of burnout within health and social care in the UK. The pressures were acute before the pandemic and have simply increased as a consequence of it.

Media reports of workers being exhausted and overstretched due to staff shortages are difficult to read but reflect the reality in so many care settings – many, but not all.

Whilst it is important that these high-level reports focus on issues around funding and forecasting, this only addresses a niche aspect of the wider situation, and I can’t help but think a critical element is being missed – how we better serve the people who work at the heart of care.

Let’s start by considering why it is that there are such acute staff shortages; why turnover in some settings is eye-wateringly high; and why levels of stress and anxiety are higher than in other sectors.

In no small part, it’s down to how the people at the heart of those settings are treated. I am in no doubt that the sector needs to adopt a far greater appreciation for the needs of those staff, for their professional development and for their wider wellbeing.

This isn’t just an aspiration. There is a direct correlation between investing in people and their careers and how they, in turn, view and value their role. Providing care workers with on-going training, investing in their well-being, and supporting them when things get tough pays dividends.

Take for example Samuel Hobson House in Newcastle-under-Lyme – a setting with a positive culture and an established focus on wellbeing. Here, Acacia Training works with the leadership team on a range of wellbeing, mental health, and training provisions. And the impact is clear: staff turnover over the past 12 months stands at 7% which is significantly lower than the 26% average experienced in the local area; sickness days are half the regional comparison; and, significantly, the percentage of staff with a Level 2 or above qualification stands at 92%, compared to the local average of 55%.

‘Wellbeing’ is a much-used term, and it’s easy to think that as a leadership team you’ve got the wellbeing of your team front of mind but recognising its importance and taking tangible steps towards supporting it aren’t always aligned. Acacia’s wellbeing support programme is embedded in the training curriculum that we deliver to care settings. It includes elements focused on the importance of a balanced diet and your relationship with food; building resilience and developing your mindset; it even covers why sleep is so important.

It may sound abstract but equipping team members with the tools to decompress after a long, tough day at work shouldn’t be viewed as a ‘nice to have,’ these things are critical.

The reality is, especially after the past 15 months or so, that with the best will in the world there will be staff who feel the pressure more than others. In these circumstances, early recognition of pinch points and empathy for their situation is vital. The provision of access to counselling and support around mental health can make a significant difference in preventing the pressure getting to the point of boiling over. It’s important too, that managers recognise their own pinch points – they are not, after all, invincible.

I am in no doubt that the provision of this wraparound support is an essential element in investing in a care team that feels valued, but professional training is crucial too. All too often those employed within the care sector are seen merely as workers – this needs to change to a point whereby they’re viewed as part of a profession. There is no coincidence that the high percentage of the team at Samuel Hobson House with a Level 2 or higher qualification (combined with the wraparound support and guidance provided) correlates to the low turnover of staff experienced in that setting – the team recognises that it is valued and invested in.

There is a myriad of government initiatives to support this drive towards greater levels of training within the sector. From the Kickstart programme, to traineeships, through to apprenticeships and beyond, the care sector has the ability to give its staff a career path that provides longevity and a vision for progress – both appealing aspects in attracting the best talent.

The care sector would undoubtedly benefit from greater long-term strategic and financial planning at a high level, but let’s not forget what those at the grass roots can do to drive greater appreciation of the value to be gained by following a career within it.

Offering a clear and relevant training programme, combined with wrap around support and guidance, and ultimately viewing team members as professional individuals rather than just a number on the payroll, really does make all the difference.

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