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‘Tip of the iceberg’: Health workers twice as likely to suffer psychological injury

University of Sydney Associate Professor Anya Johnson, who is working with a group of healthcare providers to develop strategies as part of the next phase of the project, agreed.

“There’s an awful lot of psychosocial risk under that that doesn’t come from employee compensation, but from absences and turnover,” she said.

Johnson said the framework used to improve workplace practice, developed at Curtin University, aims to provide people with stimulating work, encourage their sense of mastery over tasks and give them greater control over their work. to give.

“We’re not talking about ‘is everyone getting enough breaks’. That’s critical, of course, but if you take a break and go back to the same environment, you don’t recover,” she said.

A spokesperson for NSW Health said it took the safety of all its employees seriously, noting that its workers’ compensation data indicated claims for mental health injuries between January and October were 24 percent lower than for the same period in 2021.

Brad Wakeling, national health and safety manager at RegisCare, said about half of the aged care provider’s reported incidents were related to violence or aggression from residents or visitors.

Recent partnerships with organizations such as Dementia Australia have helped the company design working conditions that reduce these risks. But Wakeling said the pandemic had really revealed just how far staff were willing to go for residents, even at the cost of their own mental health.

“In an industry with so many empathetic people, they will work themselves into the ground for their residents, so we need to make sure we design in these plugholes,” he said.

The results of the NSW public sector employee survey, People Matter, found that only 30 per cent of the more than 76,000 healthcare workers – just under half the workforce – disagreed that they felt “burnt out by [their] work” in surveys in August and September.

Health Services Union NSW Secretary Gerard Hayes said burnout was common after the pandemic revealed cracks in the system.

“The workforce is depleted … people are just not getting paid what they’re worth, and that’s causing an attraction and retention crisis that exacerbates staff fatigue,” he said.

Shaye Candish, general secretary of the NSW Nurses and Midwives Association, said it had been “another challenging year” for frontline health workers and had led to widespread burnout.

“Our members are tired of being treated as if they don’t matter, are expendable and their skills are reproducible in a short course. What nurses and midwives do matters to patients and communities across the state,” she said.

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The spokesperson for NSW Health said the response from health professionals to the question about burnout was “consistent with the rest of the public sector”.

They said NSW Health was finalizing a mental health framework in consultation with employees, adding that the federal government already provided a Beyond Blue-led support service to all staff and that the state government has stepped in to a number of other wellness initiatives in recent years. had invested.

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