Rachael Heenan discusses how to promote wellbeing among healthcare professionals.

A significant recommendation of the interim report of the NHS health and wellbeing review is that staff health and wellbeing should become a core standard against which all trusts are judged by the Care Quality Commission and others. 

Questions are already being asked about how to set a core standard and whether employers can ‘enforce’ health standards on employees.

Core standard

The report makes a number of recommendations applying at national and at local levels, which could be adapted to provide a core standard. For example, national recommendations include:

  • implementing national guidance (e.g. NICE guidance on promoting staff mental wellbeing at work and HSE management standards for control of work-related stress);
  • gathering NHS sickness data in a way that is more accurate and which can be used to draw meaningful comparisons between trusts;
  • setting a national NHS “activity challenge”;
  • Re-branding occupational health services with a more positive wellbeing focus and measuring services against minimum national standards (e.g. those being developed by the Faculty of Occupational Medicine).

On a local level, the report recommends that an executive director should be appointed to champion staff health and wellbeing and that a single senior manager should be appointed to co-ordinate action. The report outlines the obligation on NHS boards to ensure issues are discussed and action taken; it suggests that occupational health services be made accessible wherever and whenever staff work.

Additionally, increasing activity, addressing underlying issues serving as potential risk factors for mental health, and reducing staff smoking, harmful drinking and obesity, may also feature as part of the core standard’s criteria.

Employees

Individual employees have some responsibility for their own health and wellbeing – as recognised in both the interim report and the linked NHS Constitution. An employee cannot be forced to take exercise or stop smoking, but NHS employers can ensure that employees are given encouragement and practical assistance to reduce health risks. This could include disciplinary rules, for example, no smoking in public.

Whilst potential savings of £555 million have hit headlines, the report identifies ‘clear links’ between workforce wellbeing and key measures, such as patient satisfaction and trust performance.  For all of these reasons, it seems likely that some recommendations at least will be taken up after the final report is published in the autumn, and that the effect across the NHS will be wide ranging and significant.