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Half of surgeons concerned by low workplace morale

13 Feb 2017

Half of surgeons say low morale is the main issue facing surgeons in their workplace at present (51%)* according to a member survey conducted for the Royal College of Surgeons by market research company Ipsos MORI. Among trainee surgeons, the number is even higher, with nearly two thirds (65%) concerned by low morale. Almost two in five surgeons (39%) were also concerned by increasing workloads.

Asked how they feel about how things are in the surgical profession at the moment, 39% of surgeons said they felt negative. Again, the number is higher for trainee surgeons with more than half (53%) saying they felt negative. The survey represents the views of almost 3,500 members, of which almost seven hundred (673) are trainee surgeons.

The concerns follow the junior doctors’ dispute and rising pressures in the NHS. The RCS is today calling for urgent action to address low workforce morale.

Commenting on the survey results, Miss Clare Marx, President of the Royal College of Surgeons, said:

“Our health service has been under extreme pressure this winter and it is right that the public debate has focused on the impact on patient care. It has however impacted the staff too. The number of surgeons feeling negative about the profession and reporting low morale is worrying. Patient care suffers when our workforce is unhappy.

“Surgeons tell us that a significant part of their dissatisfaction stems from seeing the problems that pressures on the health service cause for patients. For example, it is heart-breaking for doctors to have to tell a patient their surgery is cancelled, especially as the patients and their families have prepared for what is often a very major event, yet this is happening on an increasingly regular basis.  

“As doctors, we want to do the best for our patients but increasing workloads and insufficient staffing numbers mean this is not always possible and that is very disheartening for us.  

“The junior doctor dispute last year also left morale throughout our hospital workforce at a low and we’re now hearing from trainee surgeons that current pressures mean they are also missing out on vital training opportunities.

“Ultimately the NHS and social care need more funding to cope with rising demand, but there are also a number of practical short-term measures that we can take to improve morale.”
The Royal College of Surgeons reiterates that a combination of immediate and long-term actions is needed to address issues of staff morale in the NHS. These include:

Actions within Trusts:

•    Consultants can improve morale by showing greater leadership and by mentoring and supporting those in training. There also needs to be zero tolerance of poor workplace cultures such as bullying and undermining behaviour.

•    NHS Trusts need to provide better out-of-hours support for staff, including at weekends such as the availability of canteens and crèches. Some trusts also need to get better at providing sufficient notice at rota, for example using online polls to do advance planning.

•    The introduction of Schwartz Rounds, which give both clinical and non-clinical staff a regular forum to discuss the emotional and social aspects of working in healthcare, can also improve morale.

Actions for national leaders:

•    The current focus on financial and performance pressures within the NHS is undoubtedly impacting morale. These wider issues must be addressed if we wish to cultivate a more positive and thereby higher performing workforce.

•    To avoid further demotivating staff, NHS England must engage clinicians and patients in significant changes to the health service as they progress their Sustainability and Transformation plans.

•    Morale can be improved by investing more in personal development and training, including developing clinical leadership and management opportunities and skills. The NHS will need to invest more in professional development budgets.

Other issues that rank highly on the list of RCS members’ concerns include being de-professionalised (45%), insufficient staffing numbers (42%) and maintaining a healthy work-life balance (39%). For trainee surgeons, the main issues concerning them are insufficient staffing numbers (57%), changing employment contracts (54%) and being de-professionalised (49%).

The survey also showed that more than a quarter of surgeons (27%) are worried about bed capacity in hospitals and one in four (25%) think meeting targets is an issue. Last month the RCS raised concerns that, coupled with winter pressures, a lack of social care funding is contributing to operations being cancelled and patients waiting longer for treatment as beds remain blocked by patients who are ready to leave hospital but have no community care to go to.

Notes to editors

1.    The Royal College of Surgeons of England is a professional membership organisation and registered charity, which exists to advance surgical standards and improve patient care.

2.    Ipsos MORI is a leading full service UK research company with global reach add website.

3.    Ipsos MORI conducted an online census survey of the Royal College of Surgeons membership. Fieldwork ran between 5 July – 7 August 2016. Data are weighted to reflect the membership profile

4.    *Participants were asked to select up to five issues from a list of options.

5.     For more information, please contact the Press Office:

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