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Who cares for the carers?

Who cares for the carers?

Today, the term ‘burnout’ is simply a part of modern business vernacular. However, in the 1980s, it was a label that was coined specifically – and used exclusively – for healthcare workers. Describing the physical fatigue and emotional exhaustion they experienced as a direct result of their everyday jobs, burnout has perhaps never been as prevalent in the health industry as it is today.

The effect that stress can have on those who we turn to at our greatest time of need is significant. Whether it be nurses, emergency doctors, aged care workers or allied health professionals, burnout can have a hugely negative impact on these individuals and their families, as well as ultimately, their patients.

So, this begs the question, who is caring for our carers?

In September, Aon held its fourth annual Health Symposium to continue the evolving dialogue around healthcare, where this topic sparked hot conversation. In particular, a panel session led by Aon’s Paul Gordon featuring Dr Ajay Aggarwal from AWAC, Sophie Barret of Beyond Blue and Damien Kelly from Aon focused on the wellbeing of carers.

In this discussion, several interesting stories were told about the impact that poor support can have on healthcare professionals. For example, the case of Dr Hadiza Bawa-Garba, who was convicted of manslaughter following a series of decisions on her first shift after returning from maternity leave in the UK. Or, the case of Dr Chris Day, who lost his job after reporting on staff shortages in the London hospital in which he worked.

Whilst every case is highly nuanced, what these examples bring to life was an acute need to prioritise the wellbeing of those who deal with life and death every day. In fact, the average cost to an organisation of a physical injury will be up to $20,000, whereas the cost of a psychological injury or trauma will be up to $100,000. So now we know that front line carers are under greater stress than most other professions – and we understand the impact – how can we begin to move the needle in supporting their wellness?

To begin with, the healthcare industry needs to be open about starting a conversation. To truly make a difference, we need to remove the stigma around mental health in the industry and be proactive in our approach. With focused education and awareness on how carers can look after themselves and each other, subtle cultural shifts that support mental health, and the promotion of speaking up, carers may start to feel that they have the support and resources they need to succeed in their demanding positions.

To support this, Beyond Blue recently released a how-to-guide for health services, on developing a workplace mental health strategy. Titled “Heads Up,” the guide outlines how to develop an impactful a strategy, with a focus on establishing a clear and results-driven action plan. With a solid set of resources, Beyond Blue has provided a valuable starting point for healthcare providers to create a mentally healthy workplace.

Not only is this the right thing to do – it also pays dividends. The business outcomes from good employee wellbeing are clear. A “well” organisation that encourages resilience, provides peer-to-peer support and encourages stability will enjoy employees who are six times more engaged, 21% more productive, and 34% more likely to stay in their roles. In addition, the all-important marker of client satisfaction will see double digit increases when employees are well. There has never been a more important time to focus on organisational culture to support these employees and their patients.

The most important message for health professionals and their employers to hear? In order to provide value and support to patients, carers need to be physically, psychologically and mentally well. It is critical that as an industry, the health and wellbeing of healthcare providers is a top priority, so they can perform at their best. As a result, they can continue making a positive impact on the patients they care for.

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