Current working conditions experienced by nurses and midwives pose a significant threat to their mental health, SOM report finds.

The report by the Society of Occupational Medicine (SOM) and funded by the RCN called “The Mental Health and Wellbeing of Nurses and Midwives in the United Kingdom” found a identifies the “high risk of mental health problems and burnout” and that “working conditions not only threaten the health of nurses and midwives, but also impact on their ability to deliver high quality care to patients.”

The report found that many nurses and midwives are reluctant to disclose mental health difficulties and avoid asking their managers for support and where support is available, information is often poorly disseminated. 

Some conclusions reached by the report include:

  • to avert a mental health crisis among staff, more healthy working environments are needed for nurses and midwives, the stigma of disclosing mental health problems should be reduced, and managers and leaders need training to identify and alleviate stress in staff.
  • action is needed to address the organisational causes of poor mental health and wellbeing in nurses and midwives (e.g. high work demands, poor leadership, lack of resourcing and workplace bullying).
  • a phased approach to return to work should be available to nurses and midwives who are struggling with their mental wellbeing. They should be able to self-refer to services, or for occupational health support, rather than go through their managers.
  • nurses and midwives should be also be required to take their full entitlement to breaks and always have access to appropriate food and drink and bathroom facilities.

Mental Health and Fitness to Practise

The link between fitness to practise and mental health is well established.  There is clear evidence fitness to practise affects mental health.  This report mainly focusses on workplace factors but the workplace is intrinsically linked to fitness to practise.  For example, poor workplaces that causes poor mental health and wellbeing which in turn, can impact on clinical care which could lead to fitness to practise investigations. 

It is worth noting however that context is also key in any fitness to practise proceedings.  Healthcare regulators, such as the NMC, will consider factors that might have attributed to any fitness to practise concerns such as poor mental health as a result of working conditions.

We previously reported the NMC’s saying that “…wrongly attributing blame to individuals will not help keep people safe because it will not stop underlying issues happening again” accepting “…that systemic issues are a factor in many safety incidents”.

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