District nurses often set a “rubbish” example to patients about healthy lifestyles, according to the head of community services in Leicester.

Paul Miller, managing director of Leicester City Community Health Service Business Unit – formerly the provider arm of NHS Leicester City but now integrated with Leicestershire Partnership Trust – was speaking at the NHS Confederation annual conference in Manchester.

His organisation is pioneering a programme to improve the occupational health of its staff, but said he had a “cynical view” when it came to them acting as public health advocates in the community.

He said:  “My problem is that too many staff are rubbish when it comes healthy lifestyles. You only have to look at some of our district nurses.

“My golly, how would you expect one of them to go and tell some of our patients about how to be healthy. It is quite clear that many staff take no notice whatsoever of the fact they need to look after themselves – eat properly, exercise, all of that.”

He added: “I think it’s a mountain to climb quite frankly.

“We’re out there promoting healthy lifestyles, but actually a lot of our staff are not doing what they’ve been trained to do and actually ignoring their professional knowledge, completely and utterly.

“I find that most distressing. Some of our staff I wouldn’t want to be advocates of health lifestyles quite frankly. That’s the cynical view.”

NHS Gloucestershire chief executive Jan Stubbings also said mangers had to set a good example themselves, explaining that she had lost five stone through dieting because discussing how to tackle obesity with colleagues had become “embarrassing”.

“Can you actually stand in front of the public as a chief exec being 18 stone? No you can’t,” she said.

She added that her PCT had, in agreement with unions, had made it a contractual obligation for staff not to smoke in their uniforms while also increasing  travel pay rates for cycling to and from work locations.    

She said: “We agreed with the unions that it would be written into contracts that none of the staff can smoke in uniform. It’s a district nursing issue, they might have a fag between patients [rather than in front of them] but they still reek of it.”

Mr Miller described the Leicester programme as a “fairly pragmatic response to try and improve the health and wellbeing of our staff”.

Among a range of initiatives, the programme includes a supportive managerial programme, staff stress assessments, and a twice weekly after work exercise group.

He said the supportive manager behaviour training was “one of the key features” of the programme. It is due to be rolled out beyond the community services unit into the rest of the partnership trust in August

He said: “It’s not management development and it’s not your usual management by objectives training. It’s just about how you are going to be a decent, courteous, nice person who takes an interest in what they staff are doing.”

Mr Miller said the next stage was to fully evaluate the programme but there were indicators that it had made an impact on staff wellbeing.

He said: “Our sickness rate at the moment is just under 3.8 per cent and we’ve worked hard to get it under 4 per cent. In last set of figures we were the lowest in the East Midlands area

“It’s a huge productivity boost,” he added.