March 09, 2023

Health WatchDog Says NHS Staff Wept During Safety Interviews

The health safety watchdog has said that when asked about the conditions of their working environment, many NHS staff wept or expressed other extreme emotions during their interviews. BBC reports that one paramedic said, "The bad sides [of my job] give me nightmares, flashbacks and fear, but they can also make me hyperactive, sleepless and sometimes not care about the danger I put myself in." Although she has worked in the ambulance service for over ten years, she says the last year has been the most challenging.

She further added that she has witnessed and helped patients who suffered cardiac arrests on hospital corridors and in the back of ambulances. Recounting one event in particular, she said she spent four hours with an end-of-life patient and there was no district nurse available. She had to prepare the family after making the choice of giving them meds for a peaceful but certain death. According to her, she was pained that she couldn’t stay until the patient passed on as she had to move on to attend to another patient having done all she could.

The Healthcare Safety Investigation Branch (HSIB) said NHS staff reported increased stress levels, fatigue and worry because they were not always able to help the sickest patients.

The HSIB said it had to alter its investigation process after hearing the "emotionally charged feelings" of people working in the system.

According to their report, A&E staff complained about making difficult decisions on which patients in queuing ambulances would be taken first for treatment into the hospital building. Staff in wards described the impact of being unable to discharge patients into social or community care. This resulted in further medical intervention and a prolonged stay in hospital.

Those handling emergency calls lamented about receiving repeated 999 calls from the same sick patients who were waiting for an ambulance. The dispatchers also said during the interviews that they worried about how many people they would kill in a day since they were unable to send out ambulances as quickly as they were needed.

One caller told the BBC that he was struck when a man called for his wife who had fallen for over 50 hours.

He said; "They'd been waiting so long that he had decided to move her around the house by dragging her on a rug, so when she eventually wet herself, she would be on a tile floor instead of the living room floor.”

He continued "I've had people breaking down to me, crying on the phone, begging me to send an ambulance, and I just have to tell them it will most likely be several more hours, at least."

He also mentioned that the amount of abuse his team received over the winter was “phenomenal.” According to him, they were “called every name under the sun” and even issued with death threats. He said he has seen colleagues cry after answering calls.

The HSIB has said that it found in its investigation strong connections between the NHS staff wellbeing and safety of patients. The watchdog added that anxiety, stress and depression, and other forms of psychiatric illness were most commonly reported as reasons for staff sickness in the health service.

According to the HSIB, figures obtained in September 2022 showed that the above reasons accounted for all unplanned absences and almost 500,000 full-time days lost in a single month.

HSIB's national investigator Neil Alexander said, "We heard words like 'demoralising', 'powerless', 'hurt', 'relentless' during our interviews with staff."

He continued by saying, "If staff are unwell, they are unable to be at work. That means other staff have to cover for them, which again increases the pressure on the system so teams are not able to function as efficiently and safely as they could do."

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