Monday, 8 November 2010

NHS reform – the fear factor

As the consultation process regarding the White Paper outlining NHS reforms drags on, the fear factor continues to increase.

I’m not sure that I agree with the mantra ‘Feel the fear and do it anyway’ from Susan Jeffers’ book. Let go of fear – yes; feel the fear – no. Fear serves only a few useful purposes. The fight or flight response can be very useful if escaping from a dangerous situation or finding previously undiscovered strength to face a physical or emotional crisis. But generally fear in the workplace is a negative and unhelpful emotion.

I wrote a few days ago about the ‘rabbit in the headlights’ response to the threat of withdrawal of funding and potential job cuts. As the public sector in the UK braces itself for the projected loss of nearly half a million jobs, those employed in administrative functions in the NHS feel that they are right at the front of the firing line.

Workers in the public sector took an average of just under ten days off sick in the past year – three more than employees in private firms, according to the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD). This costs the NHS an estimated £1 billion annually and is set to rise as the fear factor increases.

Trades Union Congress (TUC) general secretary Brendan Barber said: ‘Many public service jobs are stressful at the best of times but now, with everyone across the public sector fearful for their jobs and the extra pressure of having to do more for less, it’s hardly surprising that the health of many workers is under threat.’ A spokesman for the PCS union, which represents civil servants, added: ‘There have been tens of thousands of jobs already lost in the public sector in recent years. It’s not surprising that stress levels are high given that civil servants are being asked to do more work with fewer resources and staff.’

One could argue that the NHS and other public sector workers are facing what those in the private sector have borne for many years – there is no such thing as job security. But as the consultation process prolongs the agony, there are some very afraid workers.

The impact on individuals really struck me when I visited a Primary Care Trust headquarters recently. In the canteen there is a notice board where staff are invited to place their thoughts, suggestions, and questions regarding the NHS reform and restructure. Among all the clever quips and insightful comments, on a pink post-it note, in very small writing, someone had written:

 ‘I’m worried that I’ll lose my job and I’m scared that I won’t find another one’.

The reality of reform is beginning to hit home….


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