HSJ and Nursing Times’s survey this week of almost 1,500 staff reveals a national health service largely confident in its ability to cope with the swine flu pandemic, but concerned their jobs are being made more difficult by hype and hysteria.
Broadly speaking, NHS staff feel their organisation is dealing successfully with the extra flow of patients, has received useful guidance from the government on how to cope, and has a robust strategy in place to minimise the impact on services of an H1N1 outbreak among staff.
However, confidence could be higher - in most cases those who agree or strongly agree amount to less than half of those who answered.
Attitudes also reflect the frequent disposition of NHS staff to praise their own employer, while being critical of the system as a whole. Our survey consistently shows that staff are more confident in their own organisation’s ability to cope with the outbreak than that of the health service overall, whether in dealing with extra patients or coping with staff sickness.
Managers are more likely than clinicians to express confidence in preparedness. Is this because managers are more familiar with the plans, or because they have less experience of problems at the front line? Managers must make sure it is the former.
All this points to a need for the Department of Health and NHS centrally to ensure messages are communicated effectively to staff across the country.
This is not just about reassuring the public that there is no need to panic. NHS staff need tailored messages to keep them informed and motivated while the pressure is on.
At a local level, managers must make every effort to instil the confidence they feel in their preparedness in all those who work for them.
Those who say they are in flu “hotspots” feel they are coping well, often better than those in less badly hit areas. But optimism about the longer term is lower: staff are not particularly confident that the NHS as a whole is well prepared to deal with greater demand later in the outbreak.
When it comes to confidence that there will be adequate supplies of vaccinations to protect the population, confidence falls slightly lower still.
Complaints from managers that they are being asked to spend a lot of time supplying information on swine flu that they consider of questionable value must be taken seriously by government. Ministers and DH officials must either better demonstrate how this data is being used or stop asking for some of it. Complaints that the advice keeps changing are also too common.
Health secretary Andy Burnham appears to take on board the message that communication is key - in both directions. In response to our findings, he has promised to work hard to make sure NHS staff on the ground have the right support from the centre. He has also pledged to make every effort to listen to those on the front line and respond to their feedback.
Swine flu is set to be the media story of the summer. While pockets of the press may be seeking to hype and scare, HSJ and Nursing Times want to hear how you feel the NHS is coping so we can reflect your experience back to your colleagues nationally - and to the DH.
Thank you for taking part in our survey. If you would like to see the full results, please visit the swine flu section on hsj.co.uk. We plan to repeat the exercise as the pandemic develops, and hope you will see the value in taking part again next time.
- For the full survey results go to www.hsj.co.uk/swineflu.
- See Managers quietly confident as NHS battles swine flu pandemic
- To comment on the findings, email email@example.com