Drop in morale among hospital staff

STAFF morale and job satisfaction in the Suffolk health system has plummeted in the last year - and the number of workers who intend to leave their posts has risen sharply, it has emerged.

STAFF morale and job satisfaction in the Suffolk health system has plummeted in the last year - and the number of workers who intend to leave their posts has risen sharply, it has emerged.

Responding to the news last night, the region's head of health for Unison blamed the Government for placing “relentless pressure” on Suffolk by insisting the county's massive NHS debt is repaid by 2007.

It came on the day that Chancellor Gordon Brown unveiled his latest budget in an hour-long speech - with no mention of any extra cash for the struggling health service.

Geoff Reason, regional head of health for Unison in the east, said: “If it weren't for the current financial difficulties and the huge pressure that's on the trusts and on the staff then it would probably paint quite a different picture.

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“On the whole Suffolk is a good place to work, but the relentless pressure on this financial position rather undercuts that and negates any good work that the trusts are doing.

“If the Government were to give Suffolk a break then I think people would feel an enormous sense of relief.”

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The shocking strength of feeling among staff was revealed in the annual NHS staff survey, released yesterday by the Healthcare Commission, which quizzed some 209,000 health workers nationally in 2005.

At Ipswich Hospital NHS Trust the figures - ranked on a scale of one to five with higher scores better - show the extent of the problem.

The amount of positive feeling within the organisation has tumbled from an average of 3.12 in 2004 to 2.91 last year, while job satisfaction has also fallen from 3.51 to 3.46.

Meanwhile, the figure for staff who intend to leave their jobs rose from 2.48 to 2.59. All the differences are described as “statistically significant”.

And the picture is the same across the county, with West Suffolk Hospital NHS Trust, Suffolk Mental Health Partnership NHS Trust, Suffolk West Primary Care Trust (PCT), Suffolk East PCTs and Waveney PCT all following the same pattern.

Mr Reason said: “To start with you've got a pretty loyal and committed workforce.

“You really have to put a lot of effort in to annoy them enough to leave. The Government has managed to do that and people will make life choices.”

Responding to the survey for Ipswich Hospital, spokeswoman Jan Rowsell said: “It's been a very difficult year with lots of pressure and lots of uncertainty for staff so the survey results, while they are disappointing, are not a surprise. We are determined to do all we can to support staff in the future.”

On the Suffolk East PCTs results, which also showed a rise of 10% in staff reporting errors, near misses or incidents, Mrs Rowsell added: “There's been much greater emphasis placed on asking all staff to report incidents this year.

“Our staff have been marvellous throughout what has been a period of uncertainty because changes have been proposed. We will take these results very seriously and act on them.”

Meanwhile Alan Staff, a spokesman for the Suffolk Mental Health Partnership NHS Trust, added: “The NHS in Suffolk is under extreme pressure and staff are going to pick that up - it would be amazing if that wasn't the case.

“There are many positives in the report but the bottom line is that the NHS in Suffolk is under pressure.”

A spokesman for West Suffolk Hospital said it would be looking carefully at the commission's results as a “useful comparison”.

But he added that the figures “fly in the face” of the government's recent Improving Working Lives Practice Plus findings. The trust then scored 199 out of a possible 204 points, which it believes makes it the top hospital in the country.

A spokesman for Suffolk West PCT said: “These results are not a surprise and have been heavily influenced by the reconfiguration of PCTs and a vacancy freeze which has been implemented as part of our financial recovery plan, meaning staff are working harder than ever before.

“However, they are very similar to the results of the 2004 staff survey and do not indicate a significant fall in morale. Staff are continuing to provide high quality services for the people of West Suffolk and the PCT has put in place a package of support measures to help them through this transitional period.”

A spokesman for Waveney PCT added: “We are communicating regularly and openly with staff and doing our best to answer their queries and to address their concerns.”

The Department of Health declined to comment.

n The East Anglian Ambulance NHS Trust figures, while not reflecting the morale and job satisfaction problems seen across Suffolk, did show an 8% rise in the number of staff reporting errors, near misses or accidents.

However, a spokeswoman said staff had been encouraged to report such incidents as part of an “open, no blame culture”.


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