Working to support NHS staff well-being

Danny Mortimer, chief executive of NHS Employers and deputy chief executive of the NHS Confederation, looks at well-being support options for hospital staff, who continue to fight Covid-19 on the frontline

The UK is now beginning to look towards a future that somehow works around Covid – and of course, that includes health and care staff. They have faced challenges over the course of the crisis the like of which they have never seen in their careers, and they, perhaps more than anyone, will be looking forward to going back to normal, whatever that now may look like.

But the toll the pandemic has taken on their wellbeing, both mentally and physically, is likely to persist for months and even years to come. NHS teams in every setting have faced unprecedented pressure and demands over the course of the pandemic, with remarkable commitment, compassion and selflessness. But they, too, are human and it is vitally important that we continue to support and listen to them so they can be at their best and continue to work in the NHS.

NHS organisations are of course fully aware of this, and employers will continue to do all they can to take care of the well-being of their staff. Line managers are the vital component in this endeavour, as well as ensuring staff have access to good local mental well-being support, including space to reflect, process their experiences, and reset.

Holding important conversations
NHS leaders know it is vital that their people remain at the heart of decision-making. To support them, NHS Employers, which is part of the NHS Confederation, works closely with health and wellbeing leaders at provider organisations, helping them to network, develop guidance and share good practice to improve both staff experience and patient care.  

At the beginning of the pandemic, we increased our network conversations with health and wellbeing leads, and we continue to hold fortnightly conversations where they can come together virtually with their peers to raise challenges, share ideas and collectively work together to support staff and improve staff experience.  

In partnership with our network, we also recently published information on supporting staff to recover after long Covid, including supporting staff at work and those who are absent because of the condition. In June, we held a webinar to help NHS organisations to understand how best they can support colleagues, with expert advice on areas including returning to work and also legal implications.

We actively encourage NHS organisations to continue to use our free 'How are you feeling NHS?' toolkit, which aims to help bridge gaps in understanding and enable teams to talk openly and regularly about emotional health. It also provides support with assessing the impact emotional well-being has on staff and patients, enabling organisations plan actions to enable more good days than bad – now more important than ever.

Across the NHS, organisations have also been working hard to support staff often using the support offered by their local NHS charities and the tremendous donations given the public, particularly through NHS Charities Together. For example, at Sheffield Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, 'CALM rooms' are available to staff, offering staff a quiet space to take time out, reflect, recharge and refuel with refreshments. The trust has 49 CALM rooms across its sites, as well as three 'breathing spaces' in chapels. The rooms include a range of well-being materials and information, signposting staff to further services.

Meanwhile, NHS Wolverhampton Clinical Commissioning Group has worked alongside Public Health Wolverhampton and The Royal Wolverhampton NHS Trust to develop a district-wide risk assessment tool that has helped to support employers to better understand what the grades of risk are for their staff, with closer attention to age, gender and ethnicity. The unique nature of considering an employee’s risk factor in relation to the risk factor of their workplace allowed for mitigation based on individual circumstances.

Wrightington, Wigan and Leigh Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust have also brought together a group of well-being champions throughout the organisation, to give staff members support and guidance with their health and well-being. There are now more than 150 wellbeing champions in the trust, each of whom completes online learning around having supportive conversations, as well as mental health responder training, and has the opportunity to take part in longer 'defusing difficult situations' training. The well-being champions provide a friendly ear to colleagues, and they take part in regular 'walkabouts' on site to make themselves available.  

National support
Our work complements the important national leadership and extensive support offered through the pandemic by the People Directorate at NHS England. At the start of the pandemic, NHS staff were given free access to various well-being apps, and some of these have extended free access in recent weeks. NHS staff have generally reported a positive experience of using the apps, via social media and to NHSEI teams, and the body is now also looking at non-identifiable data to determine how actively staff are using their accounts, and whether there are any trends it can use to tailor future support offers.

Staff mental health and well-being hubs have also been set up by NHS England to provide rapid access to assessment and local evidence-based mental health services and support. The hub offer is confidential and free for all health and social care staff, from all services and settings, regardless of whether they are dealing directly with Covid-19 patients. They have also introduced a confidential staff support line, operated by the Samaritans and free to access from 7am to 11pm, seven days a week.

However, a key issue putting more pressure on our teams has been the chronic workforce shortages plaguing the health service, stretching teams ever thinner and increasing workload to an untenable degree. We welcome the national call for more people to join the NHS, but equally, it is vital that the investment is there to grow and sustain the workforce after a decade of shortages and poor investment in education. The Prime Minister and Chancellor must this autumn provide hope to a tired and depleted workforce that they will invest in educating and training future workers for the longer term.

Further Information:

Event Diary

The NHS is made up of more than 8,000 organisations, with many more across the wider health and care sector.

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