OLDHAM health services are battling to recruit and retain employees as staff burnout reaches “emergency” levels almost eighteen months after the Covid-19 pandemic hit.

A report published by the health and social care committee on June 8 revealed NHS workers were exhausted and overstretched because of “critical staff shortages".

Jean O’Donnell secretary of the Unison Pennine Acute Health branch, which represents more than 5,200 health workers, including those at Royal Oldham hospital, warned: “NHS staff in Oldham are exhausted after working flat out throughout the pandemic for almost eighteen months now."

Aside from dealing with rising Covid cases amid fears of a Delta variant third wave the NHS also faces a huge backlog in care caused by the pandemic.

Ms O'Donnell added: “It’s important to support and retain the existing workforce, many of whom are burnt out and completely demoralised.

“Managing this backlog carefully is vital- staff must be offered mental health support- now and in the long-term as the traumatic impact of working on the front-line may only become clear in years to come."

Before the pandemic began, the NHS faced shortages of around one in 10 or one in 12 staff and there were 50,000 nursing posts unfilled in the UK.

In its report the health and social care committee stated one of the main issues at the heart of the NHS was the lack of an accurate forecast of how many staff the service needs for the next five to 10 years, something it calls "workforce planning".

The report reads: “The emergency that workforce burnout has become will not be solved without a total overhaul of the way the NHS does workforce planning.

“After the pandemic, which revealed so many critical staff shortages, the least we can do for staff is to show there is a long-term solution to those shortages, ultimately the biggest driver of burnout.”

The annual NHS staff survey, which was carried out as coronavirus cases spiked between September and December last year, revealed more than two in five staff at the Pennine Acute Hospitals Trust, which runs The Royal Oldham Hospital, felt ill due to work-related stress last year.

Out of around 3,600 staff that responded, 45 per cent admitted to feeling unwell in the past 12 months due to work-related stress, with 19 per cent considering leaving the NHS for good.

In March, Nicky Clarke, chief of people at the Northern Care Alliance NHS Trust (NCA) which brings the Salford Royal NHS Foundation Trust and The Pennine Acute Hospitals NHS Trust together, said: “We acknowledge that the additional pressures we’ve faced over the past year has resulted in a higher level of work-related stress for some of our staff and we are committed to providing our workforce with any health and wellbeing support they need.”

To combat the mental health crisis, the NCA launched a SCARF (supporting, caring, assisting recognising and family) Health and Wellbeing Passport which will offer staff four hours of “protected time to rest, recuperate and recover”, following the SCARF health and well-being campaign last year.

The NCA also introduced Mental Health Champions, who are members of staff that aim to reduce any stigma and discrimination attached to mental health within the workplace and enable conversations.

Nathan Brookes, a Musculoskeletal Physiotherapist based at Salford Royal, is one of the Mental Health Champions.

He said: “Opening up and talking is a sign of strength, not weakness. It may be a conversation that really changes your life."