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25.07.18

Danny Mortimer: Striving for a healthy workforce

Source: NHE July/August 2018

We still need to strive for greater workforce wellbeing within the NHS, which will consequently have a positive impact on patient care, argues Danny Mortimer, chief executive of NHS Employers.

The NHS Constitution rightly states that patients are at the heart of everything the NHS does, and our understanding of how we better care for our people as employers to meet that mission has been developing over many years.

But Paul Falmer, the chief executive of mental health charity Mind (who writes on p34), reminded us at Confed18 that the nation’s biggest employer has much more to do to better care for the mental health of our people.

There are, of course, some notable examples. NHS England has just launched its healthy workforce framework detailing the enablers and interventions that make the biggest impact on the wellbeing of the workplace, drawing on the experience of exemplars we identified with Dame Carol Black, a former advisor to the government on the relationship between work and health.

Meanwhile, NHS Improvement is building on this framework, working directly with trusts to build on its work to retain staff, to reduce sickness absence and improve workforce wellbeing.

‘Thriving at Work,’ the review published last October on mental health and employers, and co-authored by Farmer and Dennis Stevenson, provides powerful insights into how employers can and must support the mental health of the workforce to remain in and thrive through work.

All these reports remind us that, as healthcare leaders, we need to support staff by providing an environment that positively encourages greater wellbeing. In simple terms, care in (to our people) will lead to care out (to our patients).

This can cost nothing, but may well lead to a big impact on the wellbeing of the workforce. Before we discuss frameworks, initiatives and interventions, we could just start by asking how staff are and providing support, even if that is just by the act of listening.

We at NHS Employers have outlined eight key elements for greater staff wellbeing. These include providing a healthy working environment and person-centred leadership. Effective person-centred leadership and management is essential to enable workforce wellbeing to be prioritised and remain a central consideration.

Organisations must also have an organisation-wide plan that utilises evidence, takes into account national and local data, and   is built on the needs of the workforce. The plan needs to be clear,  effective, and take   a targeted approach where needed, but remain responsive to the changing needs of the workforce.

Engagement and communication is critical to a successful approach to ensure the needs of the workforce are listened to, understood and actioned. Staff also need to know what is happening to support their wellbeing, what is available, and how they can get involved in shaping this further.

Employers must also provide a healthy working environment focused on implementing the NICE workplace guidance. Then, interventions can be targeted on key health and wellbeing issues having the most impact on the workforce.

Finally, evaluating and acting on wellbeing actions is critical to ensure work is having the desired impact on the workforce, and making changes to plans to remain responsive to changing needs where required.

Further detailed information on the eight elements and the NHS England framework can be accessed via the NHS Employers health and wellbeing webpages. To re-evaluate your work or to start your journey, you could use our health and wellbeing diagnostic tool.

Finally, whilst the majority of the  action that needs to take place to make our workplaces healthier rests with local employers, there are steps that national leaders can also take. We’ve been calling for some time for an official national endorsement of prioritising access to NHS treatment for our people (based on an occupational health referral, for example) as a means of preventing absence and reducing time lost. We hope that any new offer to NHS staff could include this step. Together, let’s make our health and care organisations a healthier, happier place to work and thrive.

 

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