The rising cost of living is driving nurses and other NHS staff out of the health service and into better-paid jobs in restaurants and shops, a survey of trust leaders has found.
Fresh concerns have also been raised around staff wellbeing, as more than two-thirds of NHS trusts in England are reporting a rise in mental health sickness absences across their workforce.
NHS Providers has today revealed the findings of a survey of trust leaders across England, including nursing directors, on the impact of the cost of living crisis on the health and care sector.
Carried out in August and September 2022, more than half (54%) of trusts in England responded to the survey by the body representing health service organisations that provide services.
It comes as a new report from the Nuffield Trust, also published today, suggests more than 40,000 nurses have left the NHS in the past year.
More than two-thirds (68%) of survey respondents reported a “significant or severe” impact from staff leaving their trust for other sectors, such as hospitality or retail, for better pay.
According to NHS Providers, soaring prices and bills have “dented morale” and are making it harder for trusts to recruit and retain staff.
The majority of respondents (69%) said the current cost of living was having a “significant or severe” impact on their ability to recruit lower-paid roles, including healthcare assistants.
Meanwhile, all trust leaders who responded cited concerns about the mental and physical wellbeing of their workforce because of financial pressures.
One trust leader said: “For some staff, this is the final straw psychologically after two years of Covid.”
Some 61% reported a rise in staff sickness absence due to mental health and 81% said they were “moderately or extremely” concerned about staff physical health.
Nursing Times continues to lobby for appropriate mental health support for the profession through its Covid-19: Are You OK? campaign launched in 2020.
A total of 27% of trusts responding to the survey also claimed they were offering food banks for their staff, while 19% were planning to do so.
A further 71% of trust leaders said many of their healthcare staff were struggling to afford to travel to work.
Miriam Deakin, director of policy and strategy at NHS Providers, 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.
“Trusts have called it a ‘tipping point’ for the workforce,” she said.
She also warned that this year’s below-inflation pay award for NHS staff was leaving colleagues “worse off in real terms”.
In the coming weeks, NHS nurses and colleagues will be balloted by unions on strike action over pay.
Responding to the survey, the Royal College of Nursing’s general secretary and chief executive, Pat Cullen, said: “When half of the NHS needs to open food banks for its own staff, ministers’ heads should be hanging in shame.
“This long list from the heart of the NHS shows what’s really happening to our nation’s greatest asset and the hard-working staff inside it.”
She added: “Tens of thousands of nurses are driven out by this treatment and patients pay the price.
“In less than a week, our members will begin voting for strike action and saying to government that enough really is enough.”
Meanwhile, Unison’s head of health Sara Gorton, said: “Some health employees are now so hard up, they can’t survive without help from their employers.
“This is a shocking state of affairs. Ministers should be ashamed that things have come to this,” she said.
A government spokesperson said: “We know NHS staff are struggling with cost of living pressures, and we have given over one million NHS staff a pay rise of at least £1,400 in line with the recommendations of the independent pay review body.”
They also highlighted nationwide mental health and wellbeing hubs available to staff and the government’s new Energy Price Guarantee, which it said will “save a typical household an average of £1,000 a year on energy bills”.