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Promoting wellbeing in the NHS

Health Contracts Manager Lee Emmett follows up on his previous blog post about occupational health services for NHS staff.

In June this year I wrote a post for this blog about moves to improve NHS workforce wellbeing. With the recent announcement by NHS England Chief Executive Simon Stevens of a major drive to achieve better health in the NHS workplace, I thought it was time to take another look at the issue. Will more now be done to provide vital occupational health support to the legions of staff who work tirelessly to keep the nation healthy, from nurses and doctors to radiographers and radiologists, not to mention the physiotherapy and occupational therapy staff themselves?

The response to Simon Stevens' speech at the Innovation Expo Conference has broadly been positive. Professor Sir Simon Wessely, President of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, gave it a warm welcome, particularly 'the acknowledgement that all is not well with the mental health of the NHS workforce', with mental health issues being 'the largest contributor to long term sickness absence'. Apparently, it costs the NHS a mind-blowing one billion pounds a year!

However, there was a note of caution from Joanna Goodrich, Head of Evidence at The Point of Care Foundation, a charity that works to improve support for NHS staff. She commented, "These measures only represent part of the solution and must be embedded within a wider drive to effect cultural change and improve staff engagement and support."

Success stories and new resources

There are certainly some shining examples of good practice. For example, Lincolnshire Community Health Services (LCHS) NHS Trust has been proactively working with staff to provide early intervention for musculoskeletal (MSK) problems. (As I reported in June, MSK issues account for one in six staff absences in the NHS nationwide.) According to clinical Physiotherapy Specialist and Occupational Health Physiotherapist Navroz Amlani, the Physio for You service has been a great success, 'assisting in driving down the sickness rate, improving skill retention and increasing morale'.

Having received a legacy to be spent on staff, Western Sussex Hospitals NHS Trust added match funding from its Love Your Hospital charity to set up a range of services for employees, including physiotherapy, counselling and courses on emotional wellbeing and weight management. The Trust also offers its staff free assistance towards the cost of eye tests and workplace massage.

NHS Employers has launched a toolkit to help improve staff wellbeing, health and effectiveness, providing practical tips on implementing NICE workplace guidance. You can download it here.

As for the new NHS England £5 million initiative, the ten trusts which are piloting it have agreed to implement a number of key actions to support staff wellbeing, including providing health checks for the over 40s, improving access to physiotherapy and talking therapies, promoting healthy options in on-site catering venues and offering fitness activities such as yoga and Zumba. The scheme will be rolled out across the country over the next five years.

As Simon Stevens said, "NHS staff have some of the most critical but demanding jobs in the country." With absence due to ill health costing around 2.4 billion a year, the more we can do to support this important section of the UK workforce the better.

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