First there was Brexit.
Then there was “Drexit” — an exodus of doctors walking away the National Health Service (NHS) in the United Kingdom.
And now nurses and other staff in the NHS are heading for the doors, too.
Staff are leaving the medical profession for better paying jobs, such as hospitality and retail, according to a recent NHS Providers survey.
“All respondents say they are concerned about the mental, physical and financial well-being of staff as a result of cost-of-living pressures — and the majority (61%) report a rise in mental health sickness absence,” the survey said.
NHS asked its chairs, chief executives, finance directors, medical directors and nursing directors for their perspectives on the impact on the cost of living, which has become a crisis within “trusts” and the health care sector during August 2022 and September 2022.
NHS Providers represent every NHS hospital, mental health, community and ambulance service in England, according to a press release.
“Since its inception, the three core values of the NHS have been for it to: meet the needs of everyone; be free at the point of delivery; and be based on clinical need, not ability to pay,” a NHS report noted.
What is a NHS trust?
A NHS trust is a public entity “established by parliamentary order by the secretary of state for health to provide healthcare services to the NHS,” the report added.
“Trusts are vital hubs at the heart of their communities, ‘go-to’ institutions where people seek help in difficult times, and are doing everything they can to support staff, patients and the public,” said Miriam Deakin, interim deputy chief executive and director of policy and strategy at NHS Providers, in a press release.
“But the cost-of-living pressures are too big and wide-ranging to be left to local NHS trusts to solve on top of everything else they are grappling with,” the release also indicated.
COVID-19 was the ‘final straw’
An estimated 54% of trusts participated in the survey, which covered every region of England, according to the press release.
“For some staff, this is the final straw psychologically after two years of COVID-19 and the national narrative swinging (as it was always going to) from ‘NHS angels’ to ‘NHS waste and bureaucracy,’” a mental health trust of North East and Yorkshire in the U.K. said, according to the survey.
Some 70% of trust leaders reported that many staff members struggle to afford to commute to work.
And 81% are “moderately or extremely” concerned about their staff’s physical health, while 72% noted an increase in the use of mental health services due to stress, debt and poverty.
Although there are 132,000 vacancies across trusts, two in three trust leaders noted a “significant or severe” impact from staff leaving to work for better paying jobs, such as pubs, restaurants and shops.
Cost of living is to blame
Soaring prices have decreased morale and made recruiting efforts and retention more difficult, according to the survey.
The winter season will only place more pressure on a system that is almost at its breaking point by staff shortages due to stress, illness and workers leaving.
“[We are concerned about] elderly people in less affluent communities as we approach winter,” a South East community trust in the U.K. told the survey.
“Children and families of those in less affluent families, who may miss out on meals, heating and also may not get to health appointments due to transport costs.”
They noted this could worsen people’s depression and anxiety and increase risk of suicide.
A problem for doctors, too
“I think something like ‘Drexit’ [the doctor exit] is not an acute problem, this is an acute on chronic problem that needs a long-term solution rather than a ‘band-aid’ or ‘plaster,’” Dr. Hannah Wilson, based in Boston, told Fox News Digital.
She’s an academic physician, with a master’s degree in medical education at Harvard Medical School, who now works in the U.S.
In her own research, “We found that doctors are searching for jobs in other industries and there has been an exponential increase in those leaving,” she said.
“Our survey reveals just what NHS staff are going through, on top of the psychological impact of the pandemic and high levels of work-related stress,” said Deakin of NHS Providers in a press release.
“We need realism from government and national leaders, and recognition of the scale of the challenge,” Deakin added.