Healthcare workers need more support in seeking help when they are ill

BMJ 2010; 340 doi: (Published 10 March 2010) Cite this as: BMJ 2010;340:c1382
  1. Helen Mooney
  1. 1London

    New guidance aimed at helping clinicians with their own health problems has been launched in a bid to encourage more doctors and nurses to seek help without being stigmatised.

    The guidance, Invisible Patients, published by the National Patient Safety Agency and the chief medical officer for England, Liam Donaldson, details how NHS organisations can ensure that they are supporting the health of their workforce and are building healthy workplaces for clinical staff.

    The recommendations have been published after a survey of healthcare professionals indicated that more support was needed from employers when doctors and nurses become ill.

    Suggestions include making sure that clinicians have prompt access to GPs and occupational physicians and to confidential specialist assessment and treatment services.

    The report says that occupational health services should be strengthened and accredited with appropriately trained staff and adequate funding; that clinicians should be trained in how to maintain their own good health and how to cope with ill health; and that long term studies should be carried out to look at the health and wellbeing of different groups of professionals in different healthcare settings.

    It also calls for a review of how information about sick health professionals could be shared among organisations and managed to ensure continuing care, and it asks that all regulators of the health professions consider how they might adopt a consistent approach in relation to health and to fitness to practise.

    The report found that although current levels of sickness absence in the NHS amount to 10 million lost days each year, equivalent to 4.5% of the entire workforce and costing the NHS around £1.7bn (€1.9bn; $2.5bn), “presenteeism”—coming to work and performing at less than full capacity as a result of ill health—is estimated to cost one and a half times this amount.

    Professor Donaldson said he wanted to encourage all healthcare organisations to use the report “to aid them in developing systems that will help improve the health of health professionals and foster a healthy workplace where safe and high quality care can be delivered to patients.”

    Alastair Scotland, chairman of the working group that produced the report, said, “Health professionals are often reluctant or find it difficult to seek help for their health problems. This is often because they feel they are letting their patients and colleagues down or because of practical reasons such as workload or even fear of being stigmatised.

    “Ill health in clinicians and health professionals may remain hidden, leading to worsening of their condition and even to possible adverse effects on the quality of care provided to their patients. Today’s framework calls on organisations to ensure that seven key recommendations are implemented. These point to how the current gaps in service provision, knowledge, processes, and the evidence base can be filled.”


    Cite this as: BMJ 2010;340:c1382


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