Some NHS staff are so demoralised by years of pay restraints and stressful working conditions that they are quitting to take supermarket work, NHS leaders are warning. 

With the general election just weeks away, NHS Providers, the member organisation and trade association that supports NHS foundation trusts, has released a seven-point policy paper claiming the growing gap between the demand for NHS services and suitably trained staff is leading to the unnecessary closure of some services, putting patient safety at risk and delaying access to vital support for people in need.  

“We know first-hand that when staff are overworked and under pressure, patient safety is put at risk. Whoever is in power after the election must prioritise sorting out this health staffing shambles to ensure NHS strategies, which have been designed to protect health services for us all in the future, are not jeopardised.”

Tom Jones, head of policy at Thompsons Solicitors

NHS pay, it says, is becoming uncompetitive, with “a significant number of trusts say[ing] lower paid staff are leaving to stack shelves in supermarkets rather than carry on working in the NHS”. It also voiced concerns that working pressure in the health service was increasingly leading to staff stress and burnout. 

It warns that a shortage of community nurses would make it difficult to deliver the NHS’ five year forward view, which aims to move care from hospitals to the community, and that a lack of paramedics is placing “unsustainable pressure” on ambulance services and trusts. 

The association is urging whichever party wins the election to work with NHS national bodies to “agree and fund a long-term approach to workforce planning and to consider when and how to end pay restraint”.

It is not the only organisation to voice its demands for greater investment in health service staff ahead of the general election, with a raft of calls to address shortages in medical staff coming from trade unions, medical colleges and charities in recent weeks, including Cancer Research UK, which has called on the new government to invest in more staff able to carry out vital cancer tests and scans to “help match the demand that’s already weighing heavy on the NHS”. 

Tom Jones, head of policy at Thompsons Solicitors, said “The Conservatives created this crisis and solving it needs to be at the forefront of political concerns during the election campaign. One would hope that the Conservatives would recognise the mess it has created, but if not, opposition parties need to continually highlight its failings. Staff leaving our national health service to stack shelves says all we need to know about the impact the government’s ridiculous pay restraint has had on vital services in recent years. 

“As a nation, we have always been immensely proud of our health service and working within it has always been accompanied by a sense of pride. Key staff, such as nurses and care assistants, are the backbone of that health service and work incredibly hard, day and night, yet their current pay is a poor reflection of that dedication and service. 

“The measures introduced under this government have left many so demoralised that they contemplate walking away from their vocation, feeling unappreciated and burned out. 

“We know first-hand that when staff are overworked and under pressure, patient safety is put at risk. Whoever is in power after the election must prioritise sorting out this health staffing shambles to ensure NHS strategies, which have been designed to protect health services for us all in the future, are not jeopardised.”