EXCLUSIVE: Guys and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust increases focus on staff mental health

Employee Benefits Live 2021: Working through a pandemic meant placing more importance on employee wellbeing, said Dr Amanda Mwale from Guys and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust.

In a panel session titled ‘The changing face of benefits in a pandemic’, Mwale (pictured) spoke to Employee Benefits Live 2021 delegates at London’s ExCel about the huge pressures faced by employees when the Covid-19 (Coronavirus) pandemic hit in March 2020.

Services provided by NHS Trusts had to be stripped back in order to support Covid-19 patients, and so employees faced a lot of adjustments in the way they work. “This resulted in a lot of stress, panic and anxiety, not to mention trauma that a lot of staff were facing,” said Mwale. “Staff were experiencing the same physical health traumas as the patients.”

In response to this, Guys and St Thomas’ recognised that employee wellbeing had to become a necessity rather than a nice-to-have.

It introduced mental health awareness and peer-to-peer support training for all employees. “Not only do we have psychologists with specialist skills to support people wih mental health difficulties and challenges, and to support leaders, we also have people on the ground who are able to provide support for their colleagues,” said Mwale.

Emma Brookes, reward and recognition specialist at the University of Salford, spoke to delegates about the wellbeing challenges her organisation faced during the pandemic.

With limited budget, the university looked to its own community to support employees’ mental health and doubled the number of its mental health first aiders.

It created a ‘Living Library’: a system whereby employees can arrange time with a ‘book’, or colleague, and learn from their own experiences on topics such as bereavement, mental health and caring responsibilities.

Brookes said: “We recognise that meeting face-to-face isn’t always possible so we recorded a podcast with each ‘book’ and placed them on our website so that people can access them.”

The university has also developed its own wellbeing app for employees which hosts a dedicated YouTube channel that staff can contribute to.

“That generated a lot of excitement because it was people [that employees] knew talking about their own experiences,” said Brookes. “It enhanced the social aspect we were all missing while working from home, but also connected people across the institution.”