Nurses need annual physical and psychological fitness tests

England – ‘Wheelchairs receive better care than nurses’; they need annual physical and psychological tests to ensure they can cope with job demands. The subject, discussed this April during the Annual Congress of the Royal College of Nursing, followed the publication (11/2010) of the Government’s NHS Health and Wellbeing Report (pub: 11/10).

The report is an independent review led by occupational health expert Steve Boorman that found that the National Health Service (NHS), Europe’s biggest employer (1.4 million personnel), suffered a far higher number of staff sickness days off (10.7 days per annum -- and higher in Scotland and Wales) than the private sector (6.4 days), and advised that the health service needed to do more to improve the health of staff.

At the time, a spokesperson for UNISON, Britain's biggest public sector trade union, pointed out that the comparison was unfair, because the work carried out in the healthcare sector is far more stressful than in the public sector.

Airing the problem, delegates at the RCN congress suggested the introduction of an annual physical and psychological assessment for all [NHS] staff, as stress among nurses is of ‘rising concern’, according to Claire Topham-Brown. Some RCN members, she said, had reported becoming ill due to taking no breaks, insufficient staffing levels and also being expected to work late. ‘One activist observed that we take better care of wheelchairs than we do of staff. Bizarre but true,’ she added. ‘We now risk asses everything monthly, weekly and sometimes daily. But, when do we ever assess that vital, delicate and most valuable part of the machine – you and me?’
Karen Webb, RCN director of England’s eastern region, suggested that testing and support was even more important given the expansion in nurses in training in recent years, which could lead to an increase in those that are unsuitable for a career in nursing. ‘It’s about making sure people have the right attributes.’

However, Douglas Lockhart, from Scotland, warned that such an assessment could be used as a stick with which to beat staff. In addition, another nurse expressed concern about the viability of annual assessments, bearing I mind that such assessments would take valuable time and cost money out of already over-stretched budgets and NHS cutbacks.

Staff sickness costs the NHS £1.7 billion annually.


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