Fresh concerns have been raised around the negative impact of burnout among nurses and other health professionals on patient safety, following the findings of a new study.
A systematic review, published in the British Medical Journal, found that doctors working in emergency care who experienced burnout were more than twice as likely to be involved in a patient safety incident.
“We are continuing to see increased mental health and wellbeing issues”
It adds to the mounting evidence that high workloads, long hours, understaffing and general lack of support, which cause burnout in nurses and other health professionals, are putting patient safety at risk.
The review included data from 170 previous studies on self-reported burnout in physicians and its effects on career progression and quality of patient care. Data from almost 240,000 physicians was included in the analysis.
Burnout was most common in hospital settings and, specifically, in those working in emergency medicine and intensive care.
Doctors reporting burnout were four times less likely to experience job satisfaction, more than three times as likely to regret their choice of career and to be considering leaving their job.
Burnout was associated with a doubling in the risk of patient safety incidents. This risk was highest in doctors aged 20-30 years and in those working in emergency medicine.
Nicki Credland, chair of the British Association of Critical Care Nurses (BACCN) and head of the department of paramedical, peri-operative and advanced practice at the University of Hull, said the same problems were found in ICU nursing.
“We are continuing to see increased mental health and wellbeing issues which translate into increased staff sickness, decreased job satisfaction, intention to leave, poor staff retention,” she said.
She added that nurses experiencing burnout needed access to mental health and wellbeing support.
Other ways to tackle burnout include compassionate rostering and dedicated restorative supervision time, noted Ms Credland.
“Nurses are on their knees, faced with the combination of huge backlogs, a workforce crisis and plummeting morale”
In addition, safe staffing levels, adequate pay, protected annual leave and supported career progression were essential to prevent burnout in critical care nurses, she said.
The Royal College of Nursing’s head of health, safety and wellbeing, Leona Cameron, agreed that the link between burnout and patient safety risk reported in the new study was also applicable to nurses.
“Although this study is about doctors not nursing staff, it appears to back up what we already know – which is that when there aren’t enough nurses on hand, it’s patient care that suffers,” she said.
“Academic studies have shown that when there aren’t enough nurses, the risk of death increases,” said Ms Cameron.
“Nursing staff are on their knees, faced with the combination of huge backlogs, a workforce crisis and plummeting morale.”
Ms Cameron reiterated the RCN’s calls for “urgent” investment in nursing, including fair pay for staff, and warned “until these issues are addressed those patients will continue to suffer”.
Nursing Times has been running its Covid-19: Are You OK? campaign since 2020 to lobby for appropriate mental wellbeing support for nurses.