Health service leader unveils £5 million plan to boost NHS staff health


A multimillion-pound campaign to improve the health, fitness and wellbeing of NHS staff has been launched in England.

The £5 million initiative was unveiled by NHS England chief executive Simon Stevens in September. The campaign has three distinct strands: a major drive to improve the health of all NHS staff; the launch of an OH service specifically for GPs; and an initiative to work with suppliers and contractors to improve standards of food and nutrition within the NHS.

The health and wellbeing strand of the campaign will see 10 local NHS organisations and NHS England, consisting of around 55,000 staff, commit to six activities. These are:

  • providing NHS health checks at work for all staff aged 40 or over;
  • providing access to physiotherapy and mental health counselling, plus smoking cessation and weight-management support;
  • ensuring that staff are able to access healthy options in restaurants, cafes and vending machines on site, as well as running targeted health promotions;
  • setting up and promoting local physical activities, such as yoga and Zumba classes, competitive team sports and cycle-to-work initiatives;
  • committing to and implementing Public Health England’s Workplace Wellbeing Centre and accreditation process, and the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence guidelines on workplace health; and
  • identifying and appointing a board-level director and senior clinician to champion and lead activity in this area, plus offering training to line managers to support and implement the initiative.

Stevens said: “NHS staff have some of the most critical but demanding jobs in the country. When it comes to supporting the health of our own workforce, frankly the NHS needs to put its own house in order.

“At a time when arguably the biggest operational challenge facing hospitals is converting overspends on temporary agency staff into attractive flexible permanent posts, creating healthy and supportive workplaces is no longer a nice to have, it’s a must-do.”

He added that the intention is to extend the programme to all NHS employers over the next five years, targeting those with the highest rates of sickness absence and recruitment and retention pressures in 2016/17.

The initiative builds on the 2009 Boorman report into the health of NHS staff, which made a link between staff ill health and absence and poorer health outcomes and increased risk of unsafe patient care.

Employee absence, health, wellbeing and morale were also identified as factors that contributed to the failings at Mid-Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust.

In his October 2014 Five year forward view for the NHS, Stevens identified health and wellbeing as a key area for future activity, including working with the Faculty of Occupational Medicine for advice on strengthening OH within the service.

Estimates from PHE put the cost to the NHS of staff absence because of poor health at £2.4 billion a year – accounting for around £1 in every £40 of the total budget. This figure is before the cost of agency staff to fill in gaps, as well as the cost of treatment, is taken into account.

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