interviews

16.06.17

A great place to work

Source: NHE May/Jun 17

The Walton Centre NHS FT has been identified by NHS England as one of only 12 exemplar organisations in the NHS for its work in health and wellbeing (H&WB). Mike Gibney, director of workforce, and Jane Mullin, deputy director of HR, tell NHE how the trust has successfully driven down sickness levels, maintaining them at a steady rate, and has placed H&WB at the heart of its staff engagement strategy.

The Walton Centre is unique in the NHS, as it is the only specialist neurosciences trust in the UK. Based in Liverpool, with a catchment area of 3.5 million people, its specialist staff offer a world-class service in diagnosing and treating injuries and illnesses affecting the brain, spine and peripheral nerves and muscles, and in helping people suffering from long-term neurological conditions. The trust is part of a major trauma collaborative with neighbouring trusts within Merseyside and currently operates 50 outpatient clinics across 12 satellite services.  

The trust is accredited with the Workplace Wellbeing Charter, Investors in People Health and Wellbeing Award and the Sports and Physical Activity at Work Gold Award. In addition, it is rated as outstanding by the CQC and has Investors in People Gold status. 

The trust has a workforce of around 1,400. Since 2012, just over 700 staff have participated in a H&WB initiative (often funded by a personal contribution with a small subsidy) at an annual cost of £12,550 to the trust.  

The case for investment 

There had been a fragmented approach when delivering staff H&WB at the trust. In 2012, a H&WB strategy was developed to review current activities and set out what was needed to meet national and local drivers. This led to the development of ‘Work Well the Walton Way’, the organisation’s value set that remains unchanged to date.

The purpose was to maintain and develop the trust’s H&WB strategy and programme by offering staff a ‘core’ offer of initiatives that supported a number of strategic objectives, including reducing sickness absence, improving the patient experience and supporting staff in improving their own H&WB. 

The trust’s board is fully engaged with the benefits H&WB can contribute to productivity and quality, and Ann McCracken, deputy chair, is the board-level champion. The trust engages extensively with staff to understand the level of appetite in this area and to promote a positive working culture. The whole initiative is underpinned by strong trade union engagement, with the local representative for Unison leading the internal agenda.  

The trust’s Patient Experience Strategy has five campaigns with one being staff H&WB, as the links between staff feeling healthy and motivated is seen as an essential requirement in ensuring the patient journey is of the highest and safest standard. 

A healthier workforce will reduce demand for health services and long-term costs – both for individual NHS organisations and for the country. And the ‘Healthy Workforce’ initiative was identified by Simon Stevens, CEO of NHS England, as one of his key priorities for the NHS. 

Photograph of Mike Gibney and Jane Mullin edit

The health and wellbeing offer 

The trust’s developed programme of activity grows each year in direct response to requests from the workforce. Last year we trained 20 line managers in leading, promoting and supporting H&WB – the majority of which were frontline staff. The Walton Centre’s ‘menu’ currently includes the following: 

  • Physical activity classes
  • H&WB days
  • Massage therapy
  • Weight management programmes
  • Back awareness sessions
  • Fast track physiotherapy service
  • Stress awareness
  • Staff counselling
  • Cycle to work
  • Promotion of public transport
  • Travel surveys
  • Healthy living monthly promotion
  • Fruit and vegetable stall
  • Financial management advice
  • Lunch time talks
  • Feeling Funny 

In the most recent staff survey, the hospital achieved the highest score for acute specialist trusts around organisation and management interest in and action on H&WB. Also this year, the trust is one of the top five specialist trusts recommended by their staff as a place to work or receive treatment. 

Outcomes 

The headline outcome was that staff sickness reduced from 7.5% to consistently around 4.5% and this has been maintained ever since. This has resulted in a cost saving but, more importantly, contributed to our safe staffing levels. 

There is a raft of positive performance indicators that demonstrate the value of our approach, notably the long-term reduction in sickness levels over a five-year period, low levels of staff turnover and a relatively stable workforce. This delivers reduced agency cover costs, recruitment costs and litigation costs. 

The most fundamental benefit, other than for the staff who participate, is the opportunity to engage with staff side around a positive and mutually beneficial agenda. The H&WB Clinical Board Champion for the organisation is also a chartered society physiotherapist trade union representative. All NHS trusts can benefit from partnership working with trade unions to build rapport and trust around this non-confrontational, mutual agenda.  

AMM (6) edit

Mental health at work 

The most significant addition to this agenda has been the expansion of the programme into the area of mental health. Physical activity is well established, but mental health is almost the unseen challenge that can lie at the heart of much individual under-performance and sickness. We encourage a culture of openness and awareness about mental health problems without stigmatisation or blame, and support staff with mental ill health or mental health problems and rehabilitate them successfully into work.  

A great example was the recent ‘Feeling Funny’ initiative lead by The Comedy Trust, which was all about building up mental resilience. It was targeted at male members of staff and the six-week course culminated in performing a stand-up comedy gig in front of a live audience.  

Our head of patient experience, Mark McKenna, was among the staff who signed up to this programme. He said: “The course itself was really good, I felt relaxed and it was a comfortable environment to open up and talk about yourself. At the outset, I could not see how I would be able to do a stand-up routine. This has helped me way beyond the workplace!” 

Looking to the future 

The programme of physical activity is well established and continues to grow. It has now been expanded into four underpinning areas, with the physical dimension being added to by mental health, alcohol reduction and healthy eating.  

The next big challenge is making this support more available to our frontline staff. The trust is about to launch a mindfulness programme that will run once a week on a Tuesday morning (9-11am) for eight weeks. The mindfulness programme is aimed at reducing stress by encouraging good behaviours and habits whilst eliminating negativity. Over 30 frontline staff have already signed up. 

We are now working with Health@Work to implement a H&WB app for our frontline staff – nurses and healthcare assistants in particular. The app provides a 28-day programme of advice and support on a wide range of issues including mental health, nutrition, alcohol and physical activity – for example, staff will be sent a healthy recipe each day. The Walton Centre will be one of the first organisations in the country to introduce this kind of H&WB support, and we are proud to continue to lead in such a worthwhile and rewarding endeavour.

FOR MORE INFORMATION

W: www.thewaltoncentre.nhs.uk

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