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The NHS: Will caring for staff in turn improve patient safety?

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    Could the NHS’ failure to look after its staff be causing an increase in the number of clinical negligence claims?

    By Rebecca Callard

Following the Francis Report into the errors of the Mid-Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust last year, the Royal College of Physicians (RCP) called on all NHS clinical staff to “contribute to a culture change in the NHS by putting patient safety, patient experience and quality improvement at the heart of what they do”.

This seems to be sound advice in principle, but the NHS has recently also been criticised for failing in its duty to look after the health of its own staff, which in turn must raise questions as to how this impacts on how well staff perform in providing a duty of care when treating patients.

The RCP carried out an audit recently across the UK and reported that only 57% of NHS Trusts have a “clear policy to support staff who suffer from problems such as stress, anxiety and other mental problems“. If this is the case and the NHS are not currently taking care of the health of their staff, how can those doctors and nurses be expected to provide sufficient care to patients?

According to the report, 9.5 days was the average leave for sick days taken by NHS staff throughout 2012-2013. What could be considered the most concerning statistic though was that mental health problems was one of the most common reasons for this sick leave, second only to back problems.

The National Institute of Health and Care Excellence (NICE) have published a wealth of guidance to NHS Trusts to offer their staff support to improve their mental and physical health. Unfortunately it seems, based on the RCP’s investigations, that this is not happening consistently across the board.

A further concern reported is that almost 25% of Trusts are not monitoring the health of their own staff, and with increasing hours and budget cuts this is likely to be impacting on staff morale.

The Clinical Director of the RCP’s Health and Work Development Unit, has commented:

“This is concerning given the evidence that NHS staff health influences patient outcomes, for example infection rates.”

Could it be therefore that infection risk and other causes of NHS negligence claims for compensation are being increased unnecessarily because of the NHS’ failure to ensure its own clinical staff are well? The report from the RCP is important and we hope that it will lead to NHS Trusts taking steps to improve staff wellbeing and in turn therefore improving patient wellbeing.

If you are concerned that your NHS care has perhaps not been of the standard of care that you should have received, please contact one of our experienced team members to discuss those concerns further and for advice as to whether you may have grounds for a complaint or a claim for compensation if you have suffered injury as a result.

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