Career advice

Healthy staff provide better care

Supporting staff to improve their own health is crucial to getting care right for patients, according to managers at one trust.

Southern Health NHS Foundation Trust, which provides community, specialist mental health and learning disability services, believes an investment in the health and wellbeing of its 9,000 nurses, doctors, therapists and other staff is ultimately an investment in the quality of the care they give.

In November last year, the trust created the post of director for health and wellbeing. Appointee Catherine Smith is now tasked with looking for innovative ways to support staff personally and professionally.

‘If staff feel supported and have the resources and capabilities to fulfil their roles, undoubtedly they will deliver better care for their patients,’ she says.

Picture credit: Istock

Ms Smith has been overwhelmed by the response to a call for staff to volunteer as health and wellbeing champions.

Initiatives at the trust include:

A lunchtime yoga class and the production of a ‘chair yoga’ DVD.

A twice weekly post-work exercise class at trust headquarters.

Plans for weight management sessions.

The development of a fast-track therapy and rehabilitation service for staff with muscular problems.

The expansion of services such as the trust’s critical incident stress management service and the programme delivered by its ‘recovery college’ to support staff and patients in overcoming stress and anxiety.

The development of music and movement services run by the recovery college.

In addition, a multidisciplinary community care team that had received poor patient feedback and in which there was low morale has transformed its performance.

Matron Vicky Melville, who was recruited to lead the team, says staff were asked to draw up a wish list of things that they felt would help them do their jobs better.

There has been investment in training and staff have developed a team plan to improve their morale and enjoyment at work.

‘As a result, team wellbeing is at the forefront and our staff feel valued and cared for,’ explains Ms Melville. ‘Our patient and partner feedback has improved tenfold and our nursing practice has improved dramatically.’

Health and Safety Executive 2013/14 figures show that around two million people have work-related illness in England, Scotland and Wales, with more than 500,000 of these being new cases. Work-related ill health includes stress, anxiety, depression and musculoskeletal disorders.

Stress, anxiety, depression and musculoskeletal disorders are the biggest causes of work-related ill health in England, Scotland and Wales.

The above causes account for almost 20 million working days lost each year, costing an estimated £8.6 billion.

The average number of days lost per case of work-related stress, depression or anxiety is 23; for musculoskeletal disorders it is 16.

Almost one third of all sick leave in the NHS is believed to be caused by work-related stress, at a cost of up to £400 million each year.

RCN senior employment relations adviser Kim Sunley says more than 30% of all sick leave in the NHS is caused by work stress. Factors that affect nursing staff include heavy workload, time pressures, lack of sleep and occupational hazards. Ms Sunley says investing in occupational health and wellbeing for staff will reduce costly absence rates for employers.

‘Health workers face the immense challenge of delivering care at a time of growing demand and scant resource, and this can leave them stressed and at risk of burnout,’ she says.

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