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Older PeopleFeb 13, 2024

Physio suffers 'emotionally and mentally' because of staff shortages in older people's services

Physiotherapists and other clinicians working with older people worry that their wellbeing and ability to provide good-quality care is being damaged by ‘dangerously’ low staffing levels.

That is one of the concerns raised in a report, titled The state of the older people’s healthcare workforce: A report from the BGS membership survey, that the British Geriatrics Society (BGS) published last week (9 February).

The report is based on the results of a survey that the BGS conducted among its UK-wide membership – which includes physiotherapists and other allied health professionals – during the second half of 2023.

Members were asked whether staff shortages had been affecting their mental and emotional wellbeing, a physiotherapist based in England mentioned that recruitment problems were a particular issue.

This issue had a knock-on effect on their wellbeing, the physiotherapist reported: ‘Mental health challenges that some of my team suffer with can at times be a burden on me emotionally and mentally.'

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Therapists' views are routinely 'skimmed over quickly' at multidisciplinary meetings

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'Frustration' over staffing issues

Offering their perspective on the same topic, a physiotherapist working in Scotland admitted that they were ‘frustrated’ because their team was unable to work to its ‘full potential’. They noted: ‘Staff need to take more ownership when looking after elderly patients, training and education is required to all staff on a regular basis to deliver high standards of care.’

The report shows that older people’s services routinely face workforce shortages, with more than eight respondents in 10 (81 per cent) reporting that their service was short-staffed at least weekly. Five respondents in 10 (51 per cent) said their service was short-staffed on a daily basis.

Most respondents also said that vacancies advertised by their services were not always filled. Meanwhile, more than 40 per cent of them said that on occasions vacancies were not being advertised because there was no expectation of being able to recruit to them.

The survey also asked its members if they felt empowered to ‘speak up’ at during multidisciplinary meetings. While almost all (96 per cent) of doctors at various levels said they did feel empowered, the rate fell to 88 per cent in the category allotted to AHPs and nurses (who comprised almost a quarter of the members who took part).

Fleshing out their response, a physiotherapist from Wales said: ‘Often the views of therapists are skimmed over quickly.’

Training and support

When asked if they had the training and support they needed to do their jobs, seven AHP and nurse respondents in 10 said they did. However, several respondents commented on the lack of time that had made available for training. A physiotherapist based in England said: ‘I have access but not the protected time to do it.’

The survey found that AHPs were much less likely than their medical counterparts to have access to study leave that would enable them to attend meetings ‘in person’ in the coming year. The report notes: ‘At BGS, we know that this is a challenge facing many of our nursing and allied health professional members. We try to counter this by offering grants for these members to attend our meetings.’

Fleshing out their response [to a question about speaking at multidisciplinary meetings], a physiotherapist from Wales said: ‘Often the views of therapists are skimmed over quickly.’

Innovative solutions

More positively, some BGS members had managed to find innovative solutions to the workforce crisis, such as making the most of new roles and offering training opportunities.

For example, an occupational therapist based in England said: ‘We have open recruitment, so RN, RMN or AHP. Full time or part-time, various hours offered to support work life balance. Also offer apprenticeships and ACP development pathways.’  

The BGS’s president Adam Gordon said: ‘While it is heartening to hear of innovative solutions that members have implemented to address the workforce crisis, the overall message from our members is concerning, if not surprising.

As part of a strategic approach, the NHS must ensure that it recruits, retains, develops and supports its workforce [Amit Arora, BGS]

Professor Gordon added: ‘Older people are the biggest users of health and care systems, and it is vital that workforce capacity reflects this. There is a role for us all in ensuring that older people’s healthcare is fully and sustainably resourced.’

Dr Amit Arora, vice president for workforce, said: ‘BGS members have told us loud and clear that short-staffing is the biggest issue facing their services. As part of a strategic approach, the NHS must ensure that it recruits, retains, develops and supports its workforce.’

What can you do?

The BGS urges healthcare staff to ‘join the community’. 'BGS special interest groups and committees provide an excellent opportunity to network with colleagues and new faces are always welcome,' the report notes. To find out more, click 

Author: I A McMillan
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