Stress levels soar in health professions

Stress is a problem in 97 per cent of health and social care workplaces, a UK survey has revealed.

Health and social care staff are far more likely to say that stress is a problem than staff in sectors including IT, banking and finance, retailing and distribution, and legal and professional services, according to the survey by GP’s sister magazine Human Resources.

Across all UK workplaces, 69 per cent of respondents said stress was a problem at work.

Problems with stress are also growing faster for health workers. Two thirds of health and social care respondents said the problem had worsened in the past 12 months, compared to only half overall.

Line managers in health and social care also spent more time dealing with stressed colleagues than their counterparts in other sectors, the survey revealed. Across all sectors, 76.5 per cent of managers spent one to two hours a week dealing with stressed employees.

But in health and social care  46.7 per cent said they spent three to five hours a week on the problem, and 10 per cent spent more than six hours a week on it.

Health and social care organisations were more likely than other sectors to have a policy for tackling stress, with 60 per cent reporting one compared to just 35 per cent across all sectors.

More than 600 respondents completed the survey in total.

Extra pressure for GPs
Stress places an additional burden on GPs because of the numbers of staff across all sectors who are referred to GPs or to occupational therapy services, which are  often run by GPs, the survey shows.

GPC negotiator Dr Richard Vautrey believed health and social care, and general practice in particular, was more stressful than other sectors.

‘General practice can be very stressful and we see large numbers of patients attending with stress, often related to their working conditions,’ he said.

He said support for GPs and other health staff suffering from stress was limited, despite the finding that many organisations in the sector had stress policies. Private-sector organisations had better health insurance and counselling provision, he said.

‘For GPs and their staff, gaining access to occupational health is often very difficult,’ Dr Vautrey said. ‘It is one thing having a policy and another acting on it.’

Dr Vautrey said reconfiguration of primary care organisations (PCOs) over the past 18 months and the intensive drive to tackle deficits and hit targets had put workers under huge stress.

‘Stress in practices often comes from PCO demands. They expect practices to provide information at the drop of the hat,’ he added.

He said that working in general practice was more stressful than other sectors because of the direct impact of the profession’s work on patients and lower pay than the commercial sector.

East Leeds PCT professional executive committee chairwoman Dr Helen Alpin said: ‘I am in a busy practice, but we work well as a team and that is how we cope.’

‘People’s perception of stress relates to how much they feel in control. PCTs and their staff don’t feel in control because of the top-down approach of the DoH,’ Dr Alpin added.

GPs were also unsettled by the pay freeze and increasing competition from private providers, she added.

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