Nursing staff traumatised by Covid quit, creating staffing crisis in west London hospitals

West London hospitals are struggling to retain nurses following a wave of mental health problems caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.

A report presented by NHS bosses to west London councils on Wednesday 9 March, highlighted the number vacancies across hospitals in the central and north west region had increased to 12.1% in December 2021. This means there were the equivalent of 6,337 full-time vacancies at the end of the year, with most coming from nursing and midwifery.

The report claims much of this was put down to staff choosing to relocate, or make a career change following the outbreak of Covid-19. The report noted an increasing number of nurses were facing “psychological trauma”, largely from working with Covid patients.

Charlotte Bailey, the Executive Director of Organisational Development and People from the Central and North West London NHS Trust, said the local NHS continues to promote its ‘keeping well’ service, which gives healthcare workers access to psychological support.

She said the number of people using this service continues to go up, while the individual trusts in the area have their own programmes in place.

The Central and North West NHS Trust operates:

  • Leatherhead Hospital in Surrey
  • Elderly Day Hospital in Notting Hill
  • Northwood & Pinner Community Hospital
  • St Charles Hospital’s Mental Health Unit in Kensington and Chelsea
  • St Pancras Hospital, University College Hospital
  • The Gordon Hospital in Pimlico
  • The Riverside Centre in Hillingdon

Bullying and harassment also a push factor for staff

The report also highlights bullying and harassment continuing to be flagged through staff feedback, something Ms Bailey acknowledged needs to be addressed. She said:

“Flipping the language to civility and respect is something that we’re working through across North West London. Thinking about our policies in a different way and promoting an ethos through leadership and team development.”

She said there has been a concerted effort to “drill down” into the data around workplace bullying and the local NHS has set up ‘values and behaviour’ workshops, with around 400 people involved in their development.

According to the report, staff feedback pointed out “morale is low, while work pressures remain high” and many “found it difficult to engage with wellbeing offers when the demand is high”.

As well as facing staff shortages and reports of mental health issues, sickness levels also increased.

At the end of December, 5.8% of staff were off ill, which was an increase from June’s figures. It meant 1,900 staff were off due to Covid-19, at a time when the Omicron variant was rife, and 1,529 were absent for other reasons.

Ms Bailey suggested that, since the data was published, things have been rounding off to a more manageable level.

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