Thousands of Sheffield NHS staff ‘unwell due to stress’ amid Covid-19 pandemic

More than 40 per cent of thousands of staff surveyed at both Sheffield Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust and Sheffield Health and Social Care NHS Trust felt ill due to work-related stress as the coronavirus pandemic took hold last year.

By Lloyd Bent
Monday, 22nd March 2021, 7:59 am

The annual NHS staff survey has revealed the toll of the Covid-19 crisis on staff at trusts in the city, who faced huge pressures as hospital admissions surged.

At Sheffield Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, 44% of staff who responded to the 2020 survey said they had felt unwell in the past 12 months as a result of work-related stress – up from 40% a year earlier.

And at Sheffield Health and Social Care NHS Foundation Trust, 48.8% of staff said they had felt unwell due to work-related stress in that time period – in line with a year earlier.

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Northern General Hospital.

This does not mean that all of the staff in question took time off work due to the stress.

Kirsten Major, Chief Executive at Sheffield Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, said: "Many of our colleagues have had to witness and deal with situations this year at home and at work which none of us could have ever imagined and so it is not surprising that stress levels increased.

"That is why from the beginning of the pandemic the physical and mental wellbeing of our staff has been even more of a focus.

"It is pleasing to see that so many staff valued the support we have put in over recent years but particularly this last year with the introduction of over 45 calm rooms, improved rest facilities, risk assessments and an expanded 24 hour counselling service.”

Kirsten Major.

While staff reported being stressed, their morale at STH was recorded as being high and Ms Major credited the staff themselves for this.

"The morale score is a reflection of how team STH works together in a crisis and the lengths everyone has gone to this year to support each other, celebrate achievements and generally be kind to and look after each other.

"We are very fortunate to have amazing people working across all areas of our Trust.

Joan Pons Laplana spoke to The Star during the winter spike of Covid about the stress nurses face.

“Whilst the survey results overall are very good, we are never complacent and I will be personally reading the free text comments over the next few weeks to identify any further areas where we can do even better for patients and our staff.”

A spokesperson for Sheffield Health and Social Care NHS Foundation Trust said: “Our staff survey is a really important insight into what our teams are thinking, experiencing and feeling. This year has been tremendously difficult for everyone, a year when everyone in Team SHSC has stepped up.

“It is no surprise to us that the dials on our staff survey haven’t moved significantly and have remained at the disappointingly low levels we have seen over the past four to five years.

A medical professional in PPE (Photo by DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS / AFP) (Photo by DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS/AFP via Getty Images)

“It’s encouraging to see in this year’s survey that staff have recognised the investment into their health and wellbeing – an area of improvement. We are confident the dials on our staff survey will change for the better as our improvement plans impact.

"There are early signs of hope and change but it’s too early for them to be reflected in the survey.

“We have so much more to do to ensure everyone at Team SHSC has a great work experience and we will use the staff survey results to help keep moving forward to achieve this.”

During the winter when pressure on the NHS was highest, Sheffield nurse and UNISON representative Joan Pons Laplana told The Star that NHS staff were ‘in crisis’ due to the number of people with stress-related illnesses.

He blamed the Government’s cuts to the NHS in previous years, which left the service understaffed as it faced the pandemic on the front line.

He said: “The impact on the mental health of staff is huge. We were meant to get a rest period over summer but we were not able to get that because the hospitals are constantly working at maximum speed.

“The understaffing is a problem the Government has known about for a long time and it has done nothing and now we are at breaking point.

"The hospitals are doing their best. The managers are trying to improve the mental health of staff and put things in place to help the staff cope but it is a systematic problem, not with individual hospitals but in the NHS.

"In my professional experience I know that you come home from work and you bottle everything up. You don’t want to tell your loved ones about patients that died and that you feel awful. They are already worried about you risking your life going in with Covid patients.

“The impact it is having on the mental wellbeing of nurses is ridiculous. It is like going into work on a battlefield every day. You just don’t know what is going to happen. It is stressful trying to deal with how things change constantly. It is having a serious effect on the mental health of staff.”

At Sheffield Teaching Hospitals, only around 34% of staff said they feel their organisation takes positive action on health and well-being, although that was up from 31% the year before.

Staff at the Health and Social Care Trust were less satisfied, where around 26% of staff said they feel their organisation takes positive action up from 24% the previous year.

More than 7,000 employees at Sheffield Teaching Hospitals took the survey, while just under 1,000 took it at Sheffield Health and Social Care.

This means that more than 40% of this number said they felt unwell – this amounts to around a sixth of the total workforce at Sheffield Teaching Hospitals.

And although the survey was taken before the outrage over the Government’s proposed one per cent pay rise for NHS staff, it found that the proportion of staff who are satisfied with their pay at Sheffield Teaching Hospitals fell to 39% last year, from 42% in 2019.

At Sheffield Health and Social Care Trust the number satisfied with their pay remained at 41%.