Occupational Health & Wellbeing Awards 2020 shortlist: OH team of the year (public sector)

A week today (on October 2) we will be revealing the winners of the Occupational Health & Wellbeing Awards 2020. Ahead of that, and throughout September, we have been showcasing the excellence of OH practitioners by profiling all of our shortlisted entrants. Here, in our final list, we recognise those that have been shortlisted in the “OH team of the year (public sector)” category. Good luck to you all for next week.

The Army Regional Occupational Health Team

During the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, much of the focus of the Army occupational health team was aligned to medically managing service personnel who were unable to resume their military roles. However, as those operations ceased, the OH service needed to be realigned to focus on preventative care and early intervention.

Evidence showed the team needed to adopt a multidisciplinary approach, so the Army brought in occupational therapists as well as better utilising the skills of those already in the OH service.

Line managers were supported and trained to ask for OH input earlier should they be overseeing a person who was to be placed on sick leave, while the team has been able to implement change in response to policy amendments.

The implementation of early intervention OH within the Army has resulted in early engagement with physical rehabilitation and mental health services. There has been a 65% increase in the number of service personnel supported to remain in work with temporary work adaptions.

Posters to encourage early referral to OH were described by our judges as “very impactful and clear” about the benefits this can bring.

Civil Nuclear Constabulary

The Civil Nuclear Constabulary is the armed police force in charge of protecting civil nuclear sites and nuclear materials in England, Scotland and Wales. It found huge discrepancies in occupational health provision across its 10 sites, including a lack of wellbeing support and a failure to recognise the importance of staff wellbeing in its corporate strategy.

As a result, the constabulary has now developed a stand-alone in-house occupational health and wellbeing service, populated by a multidisciplinary team including doctors, nurses, psychologists, fitness experts and a neurodiversity expert.

Staff are offered annual medicals and lifestyle assessments, on-site gyms, tailored exercise and diet plans and automatic referrals between OH workstreams. The return on investment in 2017/18 topped £2m, and wellbeing has now become a “golden thread” running through the organisation.

Our judges commended the organisation for using its OH expertise and resources effectively and for the service’s “clear contribution” to the Civil Nuclear Constabulary.

Department for Work and Pensions

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) saw a dramatic increase in workload during the coronavirus crisis, receiving almost two years’ worth of claims for unemployment benefit and support in just three weeks. Meanwhile, 20% of its workforce were shielding and self-isolating with Covid-19 symptoms and staff were split across roughly 600 locations.

There were also issues of perceived unfairness in the way that different staff groups were being treated, and staff were anxious about work flexibility, caring responsibilities and the impact the crisis was having. Many felt exhausted and some had suffered a bereavement.

This led the DWP Wellbeing Team to develop a suite of new products and interventions at pace. This included a mental health and wellbeing guide, five-step wellbeing conversations with managers, a series of Covid-19 “Spotlight on” webinars on topical issues, such as how to maintain a positive mindset in difficult times, an app from an external wellbeing provider and bereavement support resources.

A bereavement counsellor facilitated intervention for small numbers of colleagues to help them come to terms with loss and bereavement in a supportive, safe and confidential environment, while mini wellbeing assessments were offered to nip feelings of stress, burnout and fatigue in the bud.

Its wellbeing pulse survey found 77% of people felt they had a manager who supported them through the crisis and 84% felt connected to their colleagues. There was a 15% increase in the number of people who were satisfied with the wellbeing support on offer to them.

Our judges were impressed by the level of diagnostic work that had been undertaking to understand the challenges the department faced, and the “comprehensive solutions” that had been arrived at.

North Cumbria Integrated Care NHS Foundation Trust

The occupational health teams based at Cumberland Infirmary and West Cumberland Hospital have “gone above and beyond” to support staff throughout the pandemic, implementing a variety of interventions while maintaining core OH responsibilities. They have carried out more than 1,800 Covid-19 swabs for trust staff and their household members, answered more than 6,000 Covid-related queries, advised more than 2,000 individuals about the virus and adapted its service to act on referrals remotely.

All staff are supported through an enhanced employee assistance programme as well as a web-based support service which includes self-help advice, apps and health and wellbeing campaigns was launched in April. The team worked across departments to provide wellbeing services, including counselling, coaching and access to physiological support services, and have provided support through a new staff wellbeing network support line.

Our judges found the range of new services on offer to be impressive, especially given the fact it had all been put in place in such challenging circumstances.

Swansea Bay University Health Board

Swansea Bay University Health Board’s occupational health service had historically been delivered through a traditional clinical model, with more than 25,000 records spread across four sites – an inefficient system that was leading to delays and complaints. Because of the national shortage of OH professionals, a rethink was therefore needed to ensure the service was fit for purpose.

The result was a transformation programme that involved the creation of a new leadership team, investment in technology and the creation of a wider multidisciplinary team which included allied health professionals, who were upskilled to meet the service’s needs.

Team members undertook training to become wellbeing “champions” and a focus on social events during lunchbreaks and outside of work enabled more cohesive working. Paper records were abolished, which has facilitated a more timely response to issues and means that cancelled appointments can be reallocated swiftly. Using digital records means that stress levels within the team have reduced as they are spending less time locating records that have gone missing.

Waiting times have reduced from 12 weeks to two within a year, and reports to line managers are being sent out within five working days instead of eight weeks. Some reports can be sent on the same day as a result of digital dictation and e-processes. The efficiencies meant that an additional 30 staff were able to be deployed to the OH team and trained effectively to meet demand during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Our judges felt the team had coped through an exceptional crisis, and that the improvements put in place had led to clear benefits for its reputation and service continuity.

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