NHS England develops national health and wellbeing agenda for 1.3m staff

Employee Benefits Connect 2017: NHS England has developed a nationwide health and wellbeing agenda, implementing staff policies and local partnerships to improve the health of its workforce.

Self-reporting staff surveys last year found that prevalent health and wellbeing concerns for NHS employees included obesity, mental health issues and musculoskeletal conditions (MSKs), with 86% of staff stating they have at least one MSK and 41% of staff reporting three or more MSKs.

Speaking at Employee Benefits Connect 2017, Eric Barratt (pictured), healthy workforce programme manager at NHS England, explained how this data could be utilised to help create targeted health and wellbeing solutions specifically designed for NHS employees.

NHS England has developed policies and local partnerships to help tackle these areas, with a focus on the long-term reduction of sickness absence figures to improve staff retention and engagement, as well as patient safety and experience. This forms part of the organisation’s The five year forward view strategy, which will run between 2015 and 2020. The five-year strategy looks to ensure that the NHS sets an example as an employer by helping its own staff to stay healthy.

Barratt said: “The idea isn’t to be excellent straight off the cuff because health and wellbeing in the organisation is a journey, and it takes time to get there.”

Using a trial number of 12 demonstrator sites across the UK, initiatives that have been implemented include the West Midlands Ambulance Service partnering with Slimming World to tackle obesity, while Birmingham Children’s Hospital has introduced an on-site physiotherapy service to help deliver timely MSK treatment to staff. More than 100 employees used this service within the first six months of its implementation.

In addition, NHS sites have also partnered with digital services, such as cognitive behavioural service Sleepio to help improve sleep patterns, and app Headspace, which gives staff free access to meditation and mindfulness training. Building on the trial, Headspace will now be rolled out across the NHS.

To support local measures, NHS Trusts will also receive a set budget for delivering policy targets, which currently centre around developing health and wellbeing initiatives in all NHS Trusts. The measures in this national agenda include the implementation of a health and wellbeing strategy, featuring a focus on improving the food environment at NHS sites, increasing flu vaccinations for frontline staff, and addressing the sale of sugar-sweetened beverages on NHS premises.

Barratt also noted the importance of line managers in supporting the health and wellbeing of staff. He said: “What we want is for line managers to see it as their responsibility to create a psychologically healthy environment where they support their staff.

“You need to have really strong leadership. You need chief executives and boards to really be engaged in this, not just as the health and wellbeing representative on the board, you actually need them to be taking action and having a strong plan on what they are going to deliver throughout the year.”