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Cambridge academic says target-driven culture is leading to increase in depression among health workers

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Professor Jamie Hacker Hughes
Professor Jamie Hacker Hughes

A leading psychologist at Anglia Ruskin says NHS providers have a duty to solve mental health issues among staff

Writing for the British Journal of Psychiatry, Anglia Ruskin University Professor Jamie Hacker Hughes has called for the NHS to address the ‘huge increase in staff sickness rates’ that he says is due to the NHS’s target-driven environment, requiring tighter and tighter performance targets.

The article tells of a “paradox” at work in the health service whereby it wants to attract staff who want to be employed in one of the caring professions, yet the conditions under which they work is making them uncaring towards patients and each other.

Professor Hacker Hughes, who is vice-president of the British Psychological Society (BPS), calls for staff to speak out about psychological issues and to recognise the signs in their colleagues.

According to an annual survey of well-being by the BPS, self-reported depression is increasing among psychological therapies staff, with 70% of respondents saying they feel stressed often or all the time.

Professor Hacker Hughes said: “We may not have the capacity to heal ourselves but we can do a lot more to keep ourselves psychologically and physically healthy and engaged and to stop ourselves from falling ill. Our employers, and those of us who are employers, have a moral duty to offer meaningful help.

“The internal market and the current target-driven culture are very much to blame for increasing levels of staff sickness and so organisations have a duty to ensure the psychological well-being of their staff and to prioritise this.

“In an ideal world, levels of psychological well-being amongst health provider workforces should be a key factor in commissioning and contract placement with health provider organisations.”

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