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NHS stress could lead to sharps safety compromise

January 26, 2016

The increasing levels of stress that doctors and nurses working for the NHS are under has led to concerns that sharps safety could be compromised.

New research from the US-based Commonwealth Fund and the UK's Health Foundation thinktank has analysed the standard of healthcare being provided to patients around the world, alongside looking at the wellbeing of medical professionals and how this impacts on the care they are able to give.

Here, we take a look at just how stressed Britain's medics are in comparison to their peers across the globe, before discussing how their mental state could adversely affect sharps safety.

How stressed are the UK's medics?

The Guardian reported on the study's findings, which showed that 59 per cent of GPs working in the UK regularly feel stressed because of their job, with 39 per cent saying it is 'very' stressful and 20 per cent citing the stress levels as 'extreme'.

In addition, just under 30 per cent of doctors in Britain are planning to leave their job within the next five years, meaning the ongoing GP shortage could be worsened and the stress levels placed on remaining medics will be even higher.

Overall, UK doctors' stress levels were found to be significantly higher than those recorded anywhere else in the world, showing that despite the country having one of the most advanced healthcare systems, it still faces significant challenges.

Sharps safety compromise

The report also found that UK GPs spent the least time treating their patients, potentially making an accident, such as a needlestick injury, increasingly likely.

Some 92 per cent of respondents admitted to spending under 15 minutes with each patient, whereas across the rest of the world, nearly three-quarters (73 per cent) of doctors spent longer than this with every individual, making a sharps safety compromise less of a risk.

Dr Jennifer Dixon, chief executive of the Health Foundation, commented: "The survey suggests that UK GPs' unhappiness may be driven by their spending less time with patients than they would like.

"The relentless appointment treadmill experienced by UK GPs is in stark contrast to that reported by their peers overseas."

It is not just the mental wellbeing of NHS staff that is at stake due to the pressure the organisation is under, but also patients' safety. With such small windows of time for each patient, it is more likely that doctors will make a mistake, with arguably the biggest risks associated with needlestick injuries. These can lead to the spread of potentially life-threatening infections, including HIV and hepatitis C, highlighting the importance of doctors taking action to lower their stress levels and take as much time as they can with each patient.

However, for this to be possible, the NHS will require additional funding from the government - something Jeremy Hunt has committed to ensuring.

He has stated that he is determined to take action to ease the pressures the health service is currently facing.

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