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29.07.20

Health leaders highlight concerns for staff wellbeing ahead of winter

Staff wellbeing has been identified as a major concern of health leaders as they prepare for the next phase of the Covid-19 pandemic and the pressures of winter.

Provider trust chief executives are concerned about the potential long-term impact on staff and the challenge of continuing to operate Covid-19 services while also restarting routine services.

Concerns were expressed about staff wellbeing given the increase in reported levels of anxiety and fatigue during the pandemic. These were heightened in trusts with a high proportion of black and minority (BME) staff, as evidence has suggested that those from BME backgrounds have been disproportionally affected by the virus.

These are some of the main findings of NHS Confederation report The NHS After Covid-19: The views of provider trust chief executives published today (July 29) which includes interviews with 13 first-time NHS chief executives.

The report is published ahead of the outlining by NHS England and NHS Improvement of the third phase of the NHS response to Covid-19 expected this week.

Several key themes emerged from the interviews: how to reset and restart; staff wellbeing; sustaining and building on innovation; partnership working; the changing role of regulation and governance; and making the best use of money.

Provider trust chief executives say the NHS cannot return to how it used to be pre-coronavirus and must instead build on the successes of its response.

All chief executives raised that there had been increased communication in their trust – something that was well received by staff. Increasing communication, through webinars, Q&A sessions and email, allowed staff to feel reassured and updated on the work of the organisation, as well as engaging staff working from home and giving them a chance to raise concerns.

Chief executives cited concerns about the long-term mental health impact on staff and many prioritised mental health support within their trust.

In Lincolnshire, for example, Maz Fosh, Chief Executive of the region’s community healthcare provider, has worked with the wider system to enable staff to access support, ensuring that everyone has an outlet to call, if needed.

Elsewhere, Steve Russell, Chief Executive of Harrogate and District NHS Foundation Trust, found that the support staff need is not isolated to events at work and has deployed psychologists from within the trust to support staff. Initially, this was concentrated on Covid-19 wards, but they recognised the need to extend provision.

Niall Dickson, Chief Executive of the NHS Confederation, which represents organisations across the healthcare sector, said: “This report provides insight into the experiences of senior health leaders who found themselves in charge of highly complex organisations at a time of national emergency, when all eyes were on them and their teams to prevent an even greater catastrophe. It highlights the many positive changes that came about which need to be built upon as we step tentatively to a new normal.” 

Brendan Brown, Chief Executive of Airedale NHS Foundation Trust, added: “It’s all about how we support people, because life isn’t going to return to life how we know it.”

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