Burn out is on the rise. Symptoms are both physical and psychological; including exhaustion, headaches and sleeplessness but also lack of motivation, feelings of dejection, cynicism and quickness to anger.
A study has reported that a frightening 52% of respondents selected from a variety of age groups, experience levels and sectors are experiencing burn out in 2021. This is a sharp rise from the 43% reported in 2020. And it's no surprise that workers in the healthcare sector are burning out at record numbers.
As part of The Green Screen project, in which we explore films and debates for a better future, we explored how burn out has been affecting hospital workers pre- and post-Pandemic. This month, we featured the film 'Burning Out' and held a debate on how to guarantee healthcare as a common good.
In 'Burning Out', staff in a Parisian hospital speak on the tremendous task of having to function ever-more efficiently despite a shortage of personnel and lack of resources. The producer of the film Jérôme Le Maire depicts himself as a 'fireman' entering a place 'on fire'.
Watch now: Invest in healthcare! Addressing vulnerabilities in European public healthcare systems
Although the European healthcare system has been dramatically impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic – the story doesn't begin there.
The austerity wave that occurred after the 2008 crisis had already crippled health infrastructures by cutting funding to hospitals, reducing staff, and limiting resources. Just in France, it has been revealed today that 60,000 hospital beds were cut in 14 years.
"Over the course of the pandemic, our healthcare workers have been more than heroes – they have cared for us and our loved ones, doing everything they can to fight the coronavirus, often in challenging circumstances. Austerity policies have led to underfunding in our healthcare systems and the pandemic has demonstrated the human cost of that lack of resource." - Dr Sam Murray, Music Lecturer and EGP Amendments Committee Member
"One of the big protagonists (...) that occupied a lot of our thoughts especially in this first wave but that very silently have been dealing with the consequences of COVID-19 I believe has been the healthcare sector: so its workers but also the conditions in which they have and are working, right? We know that in Europe there was an austerity wave after the 2008 crisis that hasn't helped many of the sectors in general; education but specifically health was touched in a big way. COVID-19 brought this and put it on the forefront of everybody's mind but also I think physicalised the challenges we have ahead of us." - Mar Garcia, Secretary General, European Green Party
"We need to realise that the cuts undermine healthcare systems all over Europe. (...) I would like to say that the health of the people is not an asset, but a human right, and [that] every citizen must have access to a healthcare system." - Dr Alex Mayor Fuentes, Doctor, Internal Medicine, Hospital Taulí
"I found it a strong movie that really shows what stress and anxiety [does]. (...) At a certain point you have to work (...) like a machine, like in an assembly line under high pressure. There is really the risk of dehumanisation. You don't really have the time to look out for the patient, you have to go to the next room and the next room." - Tilly Metz, Member of the European Parliament
"The issue of stress is really related to working conditions in general. (...) I think this in crucial for us in Portugal or for healthcare workers across the globe; that we need to have adequate needs-based level of healthcare personnel to address levels of stress." - Adam Rogalewski, Policy Officer, Health and Social Services
Artistic Spot: Spanish illustrator Iris Serrano paints a mural at the Hospital General Universitario de Valencia, Spain
Although there was suddenly a lot of empathy for healthcare workers during the pandemic, Green MEP Tilly Metz expressed that what we really need is a paradigm shift in terms of how we think of healthcare. In order to guarantee health as a human right, we must ensure that everyone can enjoy equitable access to healthcare. It is vital to invest in healthcare to guarantee worker's rights and wellbeing as well as the humane treatment of patients.
Addressing burn out in European hospitals and beyond, we also need to reconsider our relationship with work and come up with systemic solutions: such as better investment in public goods, enforcing worker's rights and guaranteeing better working conditions. As Greens, we are already exploring what a 4 day work week could do for our society and will be tackling other important issues in The Green Screen programme kicking off again in September.
Register today for free tickets to future film screenings!