The long-term drop in the NHS’ productivity is in-part related to NHS staff’s poor mental health following the pandemic, the NHS chief executive has suggested.
During a round of questioning by the Public Accounts Committee (PAC), members yesterday (3 July) asked Amanda Pritchard why the NHS was still seeing a decline in productivity despite new investments.
Staff absences last year peaked at 5.6%, greater than during the height of the Covid pandemic.
Among other reasons, Ms Pritchard said that the NHS was seeing higher levels of sickness among its staff compared to pre-pandemic, particularly due to poor mental health and anxiety, some of which is ‘directly related to what people have been through over what was an extraordinarily difficult few years’.
She added that many staff absences are also down to Covid or other respiratory conditions which has directly impacted their health.
Ms Pritchard said: ‘That’s an awful lot that the NHS is dealing with. So you’re absolutely right, we’ve had welcome support, particularly now with the support for the workforce plan which gives hope that we now have a line of sight to a sustainable future staffing model for the NHS.’
It comes after the National Audit Office (NAO) last week published a major report claiming the NHS was unable to ‘secure the full benefits’ of increased spending and staff numbers, with performance against targets deteriorating further since the pandemic.
Other reasons for a drop in performance, Ms Pritchard told the PAC, include record levels of pressure on the NHS, with more than 30 million appointments delivered in primary care in the last 12 months, and with demand ‘outstripping anything we’ve had before’.
And when questioned why 9% of NHS workers quit between 2022-23 – which was compared to 6% in the Ministry of Defence – Ms Pritchard flagged that many staff leave their role for another job in the NHS.
In May, the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) revealed that a third of the 41 mental health hubs set up to support NHS staff have already closed.