We must all help to transform the well-being culture in the NHS

Well-being guardians may lead the way, but we all have our part to play 

Well-being guardians may lead the way, but we must make a collective effort to change the 'poor well-being culture' of the NHS 

Well-being guardians are expected to lead a culture change in the NHS. Picture: iStock

This year’s RCN international mental health nursing research conference featured a presentation by Health Education England (HEE) national clinical fellow Kathryn Grayling.

Ms Grayling discussed the introduction of NHS workforce well-being guardians, as recommended in the HEE’s NHS Staff and Learners' Mental Wellbeing Report. 

Report reveals a 'poor well-being culture' in parts of the NHS

The figures she cited were shocking: only two out of five clinical staff describe their mental well-being as good and more than one in four feel their well-being is not important to the NHS.

‘There is poor well-being culture in many parts of the NHS, where learned bad behaviours are tolerated and maintained,’ Ms Grayling said.

The government has been quick to pledge support for well-being guardians, promising them ‘in every NHS organisation, responsible for championing mental health and well-being support for staff’, and for other recommendations in the HEE report.

Well-being guardians also feature in the Interim NHS People Plan, published over the summer.

A collective effort to improve our approaches to mental well-being

But there are lessons to be learned for us all. According to Ms Grayling: ‘We found our common use of language and terminology is unhelpful. Mental health in the UK is used to mean mental illness; in other countries mental health means mental well-being.

‘People think that any mention of mental distress or difficulty will create a perception that they are not fit for their role and possibly affect future career prospects.’ Sound familiar?

You can read more about the struggle nurses face day to day, and how healthcare leaders are responding, in Nurses open up about their mental health problems, published in Nursing Management online.

The advent of well-being guardians is welcome, especially since mental health conditions have overtaken musculoskeletal problems as the number one cause of sickness absence in the NHS.

But why wait, when we can all play a part in improving the working lives of our colleagues and most likely ourselves by being more mindful about how we talk about mental health, and illness?

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