GP staff will need time to recuperate from the pandemic but may find it harder to do so, because of the reliance on small practice teams.
This is the warning in a report from the NHS Confederation, which said time to recover was particularly important for staff experiencing anxiety.
Forming part of the organisation’s ‘NHS Reset’ campaign, which aims to help the NHS to rebuild from the pandemic, the report said there were ‘practical challenges’ to building in time for staff to recuperate across all services but ‘especially in primary care, which have a smaller workforce and have been support the national drive to return to business as usual’.
‘These are the same teams that have been working up to seven-day weeks to support the vaccination programme,’ it added.
In response, NHS organisations will ‘need to be creative’ to support individuals and whole teams, which may need different levels of support at different times.
NHS Confederation also warned that staff will need support from political leaders in managing public expectations on how long it will take to catch up with a healthcare backlog while also meeting an expected increase in demand – in areas including mental health.
‘This will mean that fewer staff are available to respond both to ongoing Covid-19 requirements and to the backlog of routine procedures that has arisen during 2020,’ the report said.
It added that this would need to be supported by a strategy that addresses staff and patients’ unmet needs, developed at the national workforce planning level.
The NHS Confederation also said a number of conditions would need to be in place to ensure staff wellbeing is improved over the long term.
This includes addressing workloads and managers looking at how to ‘unblock obstacles, reduce unnecessary administration, support development of new roles and ways of working across teams’, it said.
Before the pandemic, having control over working hours was an important factor in retaining staff, and giving staff more control ‘will be key in the months ahead’, it added:
‘Primary care leaders tell us this needs to be set at all levels of the NHS, with a particular need to address expectations which require staff inputs or attendance outside normal working hours,’ the report said.
This would include making time during the working day for meetings, education and support activities, it added.
The Confederation called on the Government to prevent ‘a real risk’ of losing ‘many of the people it needs to help tackle the backlog of care’.
NHS Confederation chief executive Danny Mortimer said: ‘If we are going to get the NHS back on track, then we have to put the wellbeing of staff at the centre of our recovery plans and give them everything they need to get themselves back on track.’
He added that there may be a temptation among teams and leader to immediately tackle the backlog.
‘But NHS leaders are clear that the NHS cannot bounce back without first giving NHS staff the time, space and support they need to properly recover. If we don’t look after them, then we cannot hope to look after patients,’ he said.
It comes as NHS England revealed this week that GP practices delivered one million more appointments per week in January than before the pandemic.
A version of this article was first published by Pulse sister title Management in Practice