'Tired doctors make miskates', 'Bad decisions costs lives', 'Today I am your doctor, tomorrow I could be the patient.' These were just some of the slogans on the placards held by the thousands of junior doctors who have marched across the country in recent weeks, in opposition to the new junior doctor contract. The dispute rumbles on and today junior doctors are voting on whether or not to take industrial action. They are shouting loud and clear that they are giving all they can. They are already working long hours, they are already working evenings and weekends, they are already working holidays. They cannot give any more.
The fact is that our junior doctors are under enormous and increasing pressure and strain. Analysis I commissioned from the House of Commons Library last week shows that growing numbers of junior doctors working in the NHS are now experiencing work-related stress. In 2011 18% of junior doctors responding to the annual NHS staff survey said they had experienced work related stress in the past year; in the most recent staff survey, this proportion has increased to 31% of junior doctors being affected.
And it is not just the junior doctors who are experiencing this strain, it is the entire NHS workforce. Across the NHS, staff tell me they are concerned about their well-being and that of their colleagues. Longer hours, fewer resources, greater demands and huge amounts of goodwill are creating a perfect storm within the NHS.
According to the Director of the NHS practitioner health programme, Professor Clare Gerada, the situation is at crisis point. Within the NHS, poor mental health accounts for over a quarter of sickness absence. The number of working days lost because of sick leave is up on last year, and sickness absence costs the NHS £2.4billion pounds a year. Unmanaged long term stress is the biggest cause of staff permanently leaving the NHS.
It is appalling that the very people we rely on to make us better when we fall ill, are themselves increasingly suffering from stress and other mental health conditions as a consequence of where they work. How can Ministers claim to be promoting patient care when the health and wellbeing of the NHS professionals that provide it is suffering so badly on their watch?
The NHS chief executive Simon Stevens recently said "When it comes to supporting the health of our own workforce, frankly the NHS needs to put its own house in order". I agree. As a major employer, the NHS should be an example to other organisations and businesses. It should place the mental and physical well-being of its staff at the top of the agenda. No member of NHS staff should suffer ill-health as a result of their work. This should be true of any workplace but it must especially apply to the NHS - our proudest institution and the biggest employer in our country.
As we give serious consideration to the concerns of our junior doctors, driven to the edge of industrial action, let's also think about the nurses, cleaners, paramedics, healthcare assistants, porters, consultants, and everyone who makes up the NHS. They deserve decent working conditions, and that includes good mental health.
Luciana Berger is the shadow minister for mental health and Labour MP for Liverpool WavertreeSuggest a correction