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“The pay cap on NHS staff must be lifted because it puts patient safety at risk, NHS bosses say”
In my role as a serious injury medical negligence solicitor I often say I’m at the sharp end of things; the end where errors made within the NHS are of such gravity and have such causative impacts that a claim in negligence is warranted in order to ensure that the injured party is compensated for their injuries and reasonable losses. I say the sharp end because I know from personal experience how incredibly lucky we are as a nation to have access to the NHS and the incredibly dedicated individuals who hold it together. Despite what many in the mainstream media might have you believe, there aren’t many medical negligence lawyers I meet who don’t fully support the NHS and the vital work that they do. That said, we are almost in universal agreement as to the likely fate of the service and the consequent impact on negligence claims unless urgent steps are taken by the incoming Government to protect NHS staff in the face of cutbacks, an aging population and the advancement in life prolonging treatments/medicines.
As the article referred to above describes, the NHS will continue to experience growing problems in recruiting and retaining staff if pay remains uncompetitive. By way of an example a friend of mine, a psychologist, who has moved into private practice from the NHS recently explained to me the reasons why she left the service after several years. “I was being asked to see NHS patients who were desperate for mental health services and who had often waited a long time to access it. However, I was being told that I could only offer a few sessions before having to discharge the patient. As a result, by the time I had managed to build a workable rapport with the patient, I’d have to send them on their way when the therapy had hardly begun. I wanted the opportunity to provide the treatment I was trained by the NHS to provide, but it was an impossibility given the level of restraint on our resources. My own mental health began to suffer and that made up my mind – I had to leave”. My friend now provides private therapy to those who can afford to fund the quantity and quality of sessions they require in order to get better. She works less hours, is paid more fairly and is making a profound difference to peoples lives.
I was shocked when she told me her own mental health had in part pushed her away from the NHS and into private practice and wanted to know how common this kind of thing was. I then found some startling findings from the British Psychological Society (BPS) and New Savoy staff wellbeing who surveyed more than 1,300 psychological professionals in the NHS in 2015. The statistics showed that 46% of psychological professionals reported depression, with 49.5% saying they felt a failure. (Source: https://www.mentalhealthtoday.co.uk/stress-and-depression-increasingly-common-among-nhs-psychological-therapies-staff-survey-finds.aspx). My friend clearly wasn’t alone in her experience and I have little doubt staff at all levels across the NHS could tell similar stories.
One further example I can provide which I think further demonstrates the NHS losing talent due to poor work conditions and inadequate pay relates to a junior doctor, for whom we are acting in personal injury proceedings. This lady sustained life-changing spinal cord injuries in a car accident whilst in her final year of her medicine degree. To the astonishment of many (including her treating surgeons) this client returned to her studies and has now begun her training at a busy hospital. Whilst an uplifting story in part, it has given me further insight into the growing pressures upon junior doctors within the NHS whose salaries, at least until they reach sufficient seniority, bear little resemblance to the level of responsibility they assume, the hours they work and the demands placed upon them. Given the above, my client has recently indicated that she does not see her future in the NHS post the conclusion of her foundation year training.
In summary, it is simply unacceptable that significant numbers of Trusts are reporting that ongoing salary caps are exacerbating already serious understaffing in the NHS. In some cases reports have been received that lower paid staff are leaving to stack shelves in supermarkets rather than carry on working in the NHS.
Undoubtedly it’s a question of policy prioritisation, but surely as a fundamental requirement across all political parties, we must make working within the NHS a more attractive prospect to workers otherwise we lose quality, standards drop and avoidable errors occur.
The NHS Pay cap article can be read here.