Insult and injury to overwhelmed NHS staff | Letter

Overstretched healthcare patients are unable to do what is right for their patients, and suffer from being forced to transgress their core values, says Philippa Merrill

I was struck by a sad parallel between your article on the Deepwater Horizon blaze (Life after Deepwater Horizon: the hidden toll of surviving disaster on an oil rig, 6 January) and the articles on the overwhelming of ambulance services and other parts of the NHS (Ministers must act now on NHS staffing crisis, health chiefs warn, 5 January). In both cases employees have been subject to “moral injury”. The imperatives of cost pressures imposed either by BP or by the government mean that suffering is caused to employees through being required to do things which transgress the values at the core of their identity or being betrayed by their employers violating their sense of “what’s right”.

While members of the government appear to be comfortable with the idea that parts of the health service will be overwhelmed, they forget that the service is made up of committed and hard-working people dedicated to relieving the suffering of others. Not only are many healthcare workers physically, mentally and emotionally exhausted, but they are also suffering moral injury: unable to do what is right for their patients in the current situation, forced by circumstance to do things which transgress their core values. While some may recover from exhaustion of all kinds, even from the well- documented post-traumatic stress disorder with which many have been diagnosed, moral injury can cause distress and disillusion that cuts to the core and cannot be healed.

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