Stevens outlines push to help NHS workers get healthier

NHS staff in England will get more access to physiotherapy, mental health therapies and healthier food at work under new plans by NHS England chief executive Simon Stevens. 

Staff aged over 40 will get the NHS health check at work, while a new nationally-specified occupational health service will help GPs suffering from burnout and stress. 

The £5m initiative, to be launched by Stevens at the NHS England Health & Care Innovation Expo in Manchester today, is described as a “major drive” to improve the health and wellbeing of the country’s 1.3 million health service staff. 

It will be rolled out over the next five years, starting with NHS employers with the highest sickness absence and recruitment and retention pressures in 2016-17. 

It will also see national action by NHS England and Public Health England (PHE) to challenge and support catering contractors and PFI providers to raise the standards of food and nutrition in hospitals. 

This new initiative is designed to put into practice the commitment made in the NHS Five Year Forward View ‘to ensure the NHS as an employer sets a national example in the support it offers its own staff to stay healthy’. 

Estimates from PHE put the cost to the NHS of staff absence due to poor health at £2.4bn a year – accounting for around £1 in every £40 of the total budget. 

Stevens said: “NHS staff have some of the most critical but demanding jobs in the country. When it comes to supporting the health of our own workforce, frankly the NHS needs to put its own house in order.” 

The implementation of this new programme will be led by 10 local NHS organisations (see below) and NHS England itself, collectively employing around 55,000 staff. 

All participating organisations will commit to six key actions, including providing the NHS health check at work for NHS staff aged 40 or over; providing specific capacity for staff to access physiotherapy and mental health talking therapies; and ensuring patients and staff are always offered healthy options in restaurants, cafes and vending machines on site, and actively promoting healthier options through targeted promotions. 

They will also be fully implementing PHE’s Workplace Wellbeing Charter assessment and accreditation process and identify a board-level director and senior clinician to ‘champion’ this work, while providing training to all line managers to help them support their staff’s health and wellbeing. 

Sue Covill, director of development and employment at NHS Employers, said: “The biggest annual survey of NHS staff showed managers are doing more to support workforce health and wellbeing. There are over 50% more programmes supporting staff health and wellbeing now compared to 2010. NHS staff are now more confident than ever in reporting stress and mental health problems. 

“We cannot be complacent. As demand on the NHS grows, efforts to improve the health and wellbeing of staff are very important, not only for staff but also to improve patient outcomes.” 

Earlier this year, the RCGP said that overworked GPs may be threatening the health of patients on a “widespread scale”. 

It stated that healthcare professionals in primary care struggling with fatigue do not have the option to “sound a distress signal” – such as red and black alerts in hospitals – when they are feeling overwhelmed, which could prove “disastrous and devastating” to their ability to safely care for patients. 

On top of this, increasing pressures in general practice are one of the reasons why GPs leave the profession. Occupational health services are available across England but with varying levels of follow-up services depending on local commissioning arrangements by CCGs. 

NHS England said it will develop a national service specification for procurement regionally from 1 April 2016. 

The proposals for better access for GPs to occupational health services to tackle stress and burnout is being backed by the BMA General Practitioners Committee and the Royal College of GPs (RCGP), which called it a “positive step forward”. 

RCGP chair Dr Maureen Baker said: “We will be pleased to work with NHS England and others to develop [it] as a priority”. 

“It truly is a case of healthier doctors providing safer patient care and being better for patients,” she said. 

NHS England will also meet major hospital catering vendors and PFI contractors to discuss how to ensure that the NHS leads the way in offering healthy food to its staff and patients. 

Christina McAnea, Unison head of health and chair of the NHS Social Partnership Forum, said the health and wellbeing of NHS staff at work has a direct impact on patients and this initiative rightly starts recognising that. 

“Addressing physical and mental health issues is important and a step in the right direction as it will help tackle some of the major causes of stress at work,” she added. 

The NHS employers leading the initiative include: 

  • Birmingham Children’s Hospital NHS Foundation Trust
  • Bradford District Care NHS Foundation Trust
  • Northumbria Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust
  • Rotherham CCG
  • University Hospital Southampton NHS Foundation Trust
  • The Walton Centre NHS Foundation Trust
  • West Midlands Ambulance Service NHS Trust
  • York Teaching Hospital NHS Foundation Trust
  • The Hurley Group
  • Nottingham University Hospitals NHS Trust

Tell us what you think – have your say below or email [email protected]


Linda   02/09/2015 at 12:07

Need to address the causes not just the results. Major programme of public education in basic care for minor illnesses that do should not need clinician input , and the govt can cut bureaucracy as a start. Hours of time saved better care for those that actually need it and less stress all round- well we can all dream.

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