Published: 26/05/2005, Volume II5, No. 5957 Page 34

Every month for the past few years Luton and Dunstable Hospital has staged 'lunch and learns', aimed at offsetting some of the effects of stress in the workplace. Activities range from Karate to belly-dancing.

Occupational health department manager Jennie Jones says: 'It is a chance for hospital staff to get a free lunch and encourage them to attend a session about a topic they never had time for before.

'The most popular so far has been women's problems. The least attended was men's problems. You talk about testicular selfexamination and everyone runs for cover.

'The dance sessions are very popular; We have had jive and line dancing.

Belly-dancing was a lot of fun. No-one is forced to come. Some of the staff come and share their skills with us.' Jennie says one colleague demonstrated how to use a power ball - good for 'tightening up various bits'.

Stress in the NHS is obviously a significant problem, accounting for 30 per cent of the total sickness bill, and one that trusts are now compelled to address through written policies and risk assessment.

On a recent visit to Luton, the Health and Safety Executive was full of praise for the trust's policy on the prevention and risk assessment of occupational stress.

Occupational health consultant Dr Paul Lewthwaithe, who led the work, said: 'We want to open up dialogue with staff. We do not want them to be scared off, but to say what the stressors are in the workplace.

Managers may think they know the answers, but staff do come up with things you may not have thought of that can be easily resolved and make a difference.'