NHS workforce ‘on its knees’ – without ‘recuperation’ burnt-out staff will leave, warn leaders

“For too long, the NHS has operated at the top of its capacity, but this strategy is no longer sustainable.”

Matt Bodell
11 February 2021
Crying Nurse-min

The Government is being urged to have an “honest” conversation with the public.

The sustained and constant pressure of the pandemic has left the NHS workforce “on its knees” and burnt-out staff will look to leave unless action is taken, warn senior NHS leaders.


In a letter sent to the Prime Minister on Monday by the NHS Confederation,¬†senior leaders from all parts of the NHS have issued several stark warnings alongside calling for a period of “recuperation” before returning to normal operations.

With around¬†4.46 million patients awaiting routine surgery and up to 20% of the UK population needing mental health support, the Government is being urged to be “honest” about what the NHS can realistically deliver in the coming months to years.

A period of recuperation would allow NHS staff to recuperate and NHS organisations to develop long-term sustainable plans in order to continue with routine work alongside the ongoing burden of COVID-19.

A recent NursingNotes survey reveals a worsening crisis within the nursing workforce – a third were likely to leave within the next 12 months because of a poor work-life balance (15%) and poor mental health (11%).


The letter reads;¬†“With a workforce on its knees and many of the pre-pandemic challenges still very much at play they need your Government both to acknowledge the consequences of the immense pressure their workers have been under so far, and to be realistic and honest with the public about what the NHS can safely deliver moving forward.”

“Our people are the heart of our NHS and are key to its resilience. Their skills, knowledge, compassion and dedication have been witnessed throughout this pandemic but a year of intensive pressure, preceded by a challenging winter, has taken its toll on them, both physically and mentally. Staff vacancies still stand at over 87,200 according to the latest figures and sickness absence rates continue to be higher than normal, while the NHS is expected to do more than ever before.”

“Our members are very concerned about the wellbeing of their staff and that many will leave the service if too much is expected of them in the aftermath of the pandemic.”

“The NHS cannot recover its services at the same rate of increase when staff are so exhausted and there are over 5,000 more patients with coronavirus in hospitals across the UK right now compared to the peak in hospital patients with coronavirus seen during the first wave.”


The letter continues; “For too long, the NHS has operated at the top of its capacity, but this strategy is no longer sustainable.”

“At such a critical moment, we urge your Government to support the NHS to recover and thrive. This starts with an honest conversation with the public about what will happen next, reflecting the physical and mental toll the pandemic has had on its 1.3 million workforce and then, allocating resources in the Budget where they are needed most, both this immediate next phase and beyond.

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