Staffing shortages in the NHS workforce are a growing conversation, which is directly impacting patient care, could inclusive recruitment and retention practices, especially for BAME workers facing additional barriers, be the remedy?
Staffing shortages: poor support and COVID-19 fears
According to health system think tank The King’s Fund, staff shortages in the NHS workforce are “widespread” across disciplines. They cite COVID-19 as a factor for the shortages and increased pressure on existing staff, but that isn’t the whole story.
In May 2020, Florence, a platform connecting care providers in need of staff for vacant shifts with nurses and carers, surveyed 1100 nurses and carers to understand the effect COVID-19 was having on their lives and work. Their findings revealed that healthcare staff required more mental health support as well as better shielding from COVID-19, where 87% were concerned about contracting the virus at work. Furthermore, 42% believed they already contracted COVID-19 through work.
In terms of mental health support, 58% said it wasn’t a priority, or was inadequate in their workplace. Negative mental health scoring has also trebled with the pandemic, with 16.5% scoring themselves three or below on a 1-5 scale pre-crisis, compared with 48% now.
Fiona Millington, Chief Nurse at Florence said: “it’s clear that the mass exodus has been due to low job satisfaction amongst NHS staff. The COVID pandemic is largely responsible for an increasing strain on frontline nurses. The pressure and stress of working increased hours amid the pandemic have caused mass burnout and fatigue.
“In addition to this, contracting COVID-19 itself or suffering from long COVID is certainly a major factor contributing to burnout of NHS staff. Guardian research conducted last year revealed that at least 77,000 hospital staff in England caught coronavirus during the pandemic, while there were nearly a quarter of a million absences for COVID-related reasons. Furthermore, it’s become widely accepted that the long-term effects of COVID can be serious, causing symptoms weeks or months after the infection has gone.”
While Florence’s findings reveal the factors which are undoubtedly contributing to attrition levels in the NHS and an understaffed workforce, it doesn’t take into account how low career progression prospects, workplace discrimination and COVID-19 exposure are affecting retention levels among BAME healthcare workers specifically.
The extra barriers facing BAME healthcare staff
Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) are reasonably well represented in the healthcare workforce, yet many are missing from senior roles and face racially-based discrimination in the workplace. Their experience only worsened during COVID-19 in frontline roles, with ethnic minorities known to have been more negatively impacted by the virus.
Should the NHS fill their current workforce deficit with inclusive recruitment practices that get more ethnic minority talent into healthcare roles, this will be redundant if they don’t embed career progression and retention initiatives like mentorship, regular reviews and support from inclusion-minded management, and crucially mental health and networking support for those that could be facing stress due to working through COVID-19 as well as workplace discrimination.
In this article, you learned that:
- In terms of pandemic era mental health support, 58% of nurses and carers said it wasn’t a priority, or was inadequate in their workplace.
- At least 77,000 hospital staff in England caught coronavirus during the pandemic.
- Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) are reasonably well represented in the healthcare workforce, yet many are missing from senior roles, face racially-based discrimination at work and were more vulnerable to COVID-19 in frontline roles.