The mental health of NHS workers is in jeopardy: the Conservative government should learn from Germany about how to treat doctors and nurses properly

It’s no secret that the NHS is in crisis. Chronically underfunded by the current Conservative administration, in 2017 NHS Funding stated that it would need £30 billion to plug the funding gap. The response of Simon Stevens, CEO of NHS England, was to provide a measly sum of £8 billion.

There is a deeper crisis within the NHS: one which is not widely spoken about. This week, the BBC reported “doctors’ mental health” to be ” at tipping point”. Sadly, considering how chronically overworked and underpaid NHS workers are, this doesn’t surprise me.

In 2017, Sophie Spooner, a junior doctor, took her own life. Her mother, Dr. Laurel Spooner, stated that “she was looking for a mental health service that would have understood her mental health problem in the context of being a doctor. If she could have seen somebody, and had the right medication, I expect she would still be here.” Sophie had previously been diagnosed with bipolar disorder and suffered from depression.

Further, the Office for National Statistics reported that 430 healthcare professionals took their own lives between 2011 and 2015. Britain is in the midst of a mental health crisis. Mental health care on the NHS can be epitomised by a deficit of beds on mental health wards; waiting lists, and stigma.

Germany has one of the most successful health care systems in Europe. BBC reports show that in 2014, Germany’s spending on public and private healthcare as a percentage of GDP was the highest in Europe, as well as higher than the European average. Germany, as well as Scandinavian countries, particularly Denmark, has a completely different mentality towards social care. Here, fundamental social care is regarded as an investment in society and social wellbeing. Taking care of people is a fundamental part of this mentality, and it reflects not just in the way that money is invested into social care systems, but also in the way that these systems treat its workers.

My auntie has lived in Germany for almost forty years and worked as a nurse before retiring. Requiring an operation for cancer of the colon, she was in hospital for three weeks post-operation. She then received specialist post-operative treatment in order to ensure a full and healthy recovery. The UK version of this treatment is very different and the contrast in the way that both patients and healthcare professionals are treated is shocking. The appalling state of our healthcare service is entirely down to chronic underfunding, not the NHS’ doctors or nurses who cannot be held accountable for such poor treatment.

In 2017, the BBC conducted a report on the experience of NHS nurses. One told of a 7:00am-11:30pm shift with a mere forty-five-minute break. The Independent reports that 40,000 nursing posts are currently unfulfilled. No wonder our healthcare professionals are so chronically overworked, with many also suffering from mental health issues. The system is grinding them down.

In short: we can learn a thing or two from Germany about the way that healthcare workers deserve to be treated. The fact that so many healthcare professionals have taken their own lives is deeply saddening. There needs to be a revolution in the way that health care workers are treated by the system; greater mental healthcare provision specific to healthcare workers; pay rises, and a reduction of working hours.

The sad truth is that every human being is susceptible to mental trauma. Our NHS workers are superheroes in that they care for us and save our lives, but they aren’t completely invincible. This crisis needs to be fixed, and it needs to be fixed by the government. NHS workers and indeed, the families of those who have taken their own lives, are owed an explanation.

Eleanor Noyce

Image courtesy of Wikipedia.