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Government pledges mental health and wellbeing support for all NHS staff

by Costanza Pearce
25 February 2019

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The Government will consider improved mental health and wellbeing support for all NHS staff as part of its upcoming workforce implementation plan, it has announced.

The support will be based on 33 recommendations made by Health Education England (HEE) in a report published last week (20 February).

The NHS Staff and Learners’ Mental Wellbeing Commission was commissioned by the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) last year and recommends dedicated mental health support for NHS staff across primary and secondary care.
‘Board-level leadership’ needed
Key to the HEE recommendations is the establishment of a ‘workforce wellbeing guardian in every NHS organisation (where appropriate such as primary care this may be at a locality level)’.

According to HEE, this role is ‘central’ to all the other recommendations because board-level leadership must be ‘responsible for the mental wellbeing of their staff’ in every local, regional and national NHS organisation.

The report said: ‘This will help provide a lens on staff mental wellbeing in each and every NHS organisation, seeking continual improvements in how those who care for the nation’s health are cared for themselves and supported in their working lives.’
‘A huge step forward’
In a statement on HEE’s website, the organisation’s primary care lead and clinical director of the report Professor Simon Gregory said the introduction of a wellbeing guardian in every practice, trust and care setting in the country would be ‘a huge step forward for the NHS’.

He added: ‘The guardians will be a board level role responsible for the mental wellbeing of their staff, they will set organisational expectations, monitor performance and reassure their board that their organisation is a wellbeing organisation and a healthy workplace in which NHS staff and learners can work and thrive.’

Recommendations also included that ‘all NHS organisations appoint a workplace wellbeing leader to work with and report to the workforce wellbeing guardian’ to provide ‘an active listening component’ for NHS workplaces.

HEE confirmed to Management in Practice that the appointment of wellbeing guardians includes GP practices but said ‘more work needs to be done’ to establish who would take on these roles in a primary care setting and whether practice managers were likely to assume this responsibility. 
‘An NHS for the NHS’
The report also revealed that only 46% of non-clinical staff report good wellbeing at work, while 72% said they had experienced mental ill health or distress.

Overall, more than a quarter of the 738 respondents felt their wellbeing was ‘not important’ to the NHS, while a third of all staff said they ‘did not feel able to disclose mental ill health or distress to line managers or peers’.

In response to these findings, the report recommends the implementation of fast-tracked mental health referrals for NHS employees if requested as a priority by occupational health or primary care clinicians.

Described as ‘an NHS for the NHS’, the service is recommended to provide ‘safe, confidential and timely access’ for those facing barriers to care, such as healthcare professionals with addictions or doctors in the same provider organisation as the service they require.

Health and social care secretary Matt Hancock said: ‘The mental and physical wellbeing of the people who work in our health service must be our utmost priority.

He added: ‘[This] important report helps guide how we can do that, from creating the right culture of support to giving everyone somewhere to turn in the toughest times’.
Other recommendations include:

  • Developing a national NHS ‘Samaritans-style’ service with the aim of providing a complete emotional support service to NHS staff
  • All employees should have ready access to a proactive occupational health service that promotes staff wellbeing
  • All NHS service providers should adopt NHS Employers tools and resources on ‘promoting a positive culture to tackling bullying’
  • Creating a national charter to examine complaint handling in the NHS, including how to speed it up without compromising patient and staff rights
  • Implementing a national protocol in every NHS organisation to independently examine any staff member’s death by suicide and provide targeted psychological support for colleagues
  • All staff (including in GP practices) should have suitable, accessible, psychologically safe and confidential rest spaces in which to socialise and share experiences
  • NHS service managers, including practice managers, should develop incident protocols for staff placed in situations that disproportionately impact their wellbeing. It is to be confirmed whether this will be at practice, primary care network or CCG level