The judges have deliberated and the scores are in… the winners of the Occupational Health & Wellbeing Awards 2021 can now be revealed. Huge congratulations to you all.
It has been a heck of a year for all occupational health practitioners, whether private or public sector, small or large.
Responding to the myriad, complex and shifting health and wellbeing challenges posed by the Covid-19 pandemic has, of course, remained the dominant narrative for most in 2021.
And, as the winners of the 2021 Occupational Health & Wellbeing Awards amply illustrate, practitioners across the board have risen in bucketloads to the challenge.
From innovative flu campaigns and staff health checks through to monitoring health and wellbeing on the railways, from managing musculoskeletal problems of home workers through to amplifying CBT via coaching support, this year’s winners have shown the continuing dedication, commitment and creativity of occupational health as a profession.
Digital and physical certificates will now be winging their way to all our winners, which hopefully will help to raise the profile of our winning teams still further, as well as validate the great work they are all doing. Watch out, too, for profiles of all our winners, which will be published early next year.
Our grateful thanks, as ever, to our judges and to all those who took the trouble to enter this year’s awards.
Finally of course, a huge well done to all our winners – you have shown the very best of occupational health and you can be immensely proud of what you have achieved in the most trying of circumstances.
Here, then, are our 2021 Occupational Health & Wellbeing Awards winners.
Occupational health team of the year – St Helens and Knowsley Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust
Our occupational health team of the year 2021 is the OH and wellbeing team at St Helens and Knowsley Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust (STHK) in Whiston on Merseyside.
Serving some 20,000 staff, the team was highlighted by the judges for its sterling work not only in helping the trust and its employees navigate the Covid-19 pandemic and developing a wellbeing ‘hub’ but also in managing its annual seasonal flu campaign and in the trust being a lead employer for Health Education England.
Pre pandemic, the department was tasked with increasing the trust’s OH service capacity and reducing sickness absence rates.
With STHK being a lead employer (in other words contracting and managing trainees), the OH team carried out clearances for some 3,000 doctors in training across the country, all during the national lockdown.
When it came to the 2020/21 flu campaign, the pressures of the pandemic meant that, whereas there would normally have been six months to deliver, in 2020/21 the OH team was required to step up and deliver it in three.
To complicate matters, the department was one of three organisations in the country piloting a new national immunisation management system that, it was intended, would become the basis for the Covid-19 vaccination programme.
A dedicated flu project team was therefore created, operating 24/7 to vaccinate frontline staff. The team also devised and delivered a marketing strategy, which included health promotion events, and worked in collaboration with senior leaders to encourage uptake.
The result was some 4,000 flu vaccinations were delivered to 95% of frontline healthcare workers across the trust, ranking the trust second in performance out of 255 NHS organisations.
When it came to responding to Covid, among a range of initiatives, the department set up a multidisciplinary team of the medical director, HR, managers and OH physician to identify staff who were vulnerable to Covid-19. A nurse-led team was mobilised and managed to support Covid-19 testing of staff and family members.
The OH team at STHK clearly put itself front and centre in responding to Covid-19.”
A wellbeing ‘hub’ was also created, bringing together mental health nurses, counsellors, wellbeing coordinators and psychologists, to support staff during the pandemic. This included counsellor led debrief sessions, health promotion events and offering onsite support from mental health nurses and psychologists.
The scale and breadth of activity was recognised and applauded by our judges. “The OH team at STHK clearly put itself front and centre in responding to Covid-19. It has been a great example of how NHS OH practitioners, in truth not just at STHK but up and down the country, have been rising to the challenges posed by the pandemic,” our judges said.
Best multidisciplinary initiative – RSSB (Rail Safety and Standards Board)
RSSB, the Rail Safety and Standards Board, won plaudits from our judges for the development of a new Health and Wellbeing Index, using input from a team of multidisciplinary professionals to tackle, monitor and reduce ill health across the sector.
The index was developed in response to a recognition that there was a lack of good-quality health data being collected by rail companies, a limited ability to benchmark or understand ‘what good looks like’ in rail and that, too often, safety (albeit for good reason) was prioritised over health when it came to focus and investment.
The index helps rail companies measure and monitor the health of their employees in a new way. It is based on the same concept as the industry’s Fatalities and Weighted Injuries Index, and involves the weighting of different health conditions according to the severity of their effect.
It can then produce a single measure of the health and wellbeing of a workforce that rail companies can use to bolster business cases and inform decisions around health management. The index encompasses musculoskeletal disorders, mental health conditions, hand-arm vibration cases and respiratory issues.
By working together, the rail industry has brought a new focus to health and wellbeing.”
This creation of the index required a truly multi-disciplinary approach. It was developed by health economists under the direction of RSSB. Once constructed, it was then tested by a number of different rail companies, with pilot participants including Network Rail, VolkerRail, OH teams at two train operators and a large construction company.
In addition, the Department for Transport, Health and Safety Executive, the Office of Rail and Road and Leeds University’s Institute for Transport Studies were all actively involved.
Our judges described the initiative as “much needed”, adding: “The creation of the index illustrates how, by working together, the rail industry has brought a new focus to health and wellbeing, one that, I am sure, will bring considerable long-term dividends.”
Best wellbeing initiative – Health Diagnostics with York and Scarborough Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust
The introduction of health checks for NHS staff at York and Scarborough Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust caught the eyes of our judges, who described it as “innovative”, adding: “This initiative is important, especially now, given the pressures NHS staff have been under, and continue to be under, during the pandemic”.
The development of the checks by the trust’s occupational health team goes back to 2016, when York and Scarborough (Y&S) partnered with health checks firm Health Diagnostics as part of an NHS England initiative to support a number of trusts identified as ‘vanguard’ sites focused on testing ways of improving workforce health and wellbeing.
Unlike the wider NHS Health Check Programme, where appointments are only offered to 40-74 year olds every five years, Y&S’s health checks have not been restricted by age or frequency. This has meant staff have been able to attend multiple appointments and track changes in their health status over time.
Importantly, when the pandemic hit at the beginning of 2020, the trust, again working with Health Diagnostics, adjusted the programme to accommodate remote working and social distancing. Although cholesterol and blood-glucose checks could not be carried out, consultations were delivered by video or phone call, and staff were asked to measure and report their own weight, height and waist circumference.
This initiative is important, especially now, given the pressures NHS staff have been under, and continue to be under, during the pandemic.”
Many were also able to take and report their own blood pressure reading. Following their check, staff have been able to access their results online via their own personalised reporting portal.
Both digital and hard copy promotional materials were shared with staff, and invite letters were sent out by department (rather than A-Z), so allowing the OH team to focus on improving uptake and engagement and promoting the checks by word of mouth.
Because of having the ability to track health improvements over time, the health checks programme has led to a number of tangible positive health outcomes across the trust. This has included an average 4cm reduction in waistlines, an average 4.2mmHg reduction in systolic blood pressure, an estimated 18% reduction in relative risk of death from cardiovascular disease, and a lowering of diabetes risk.
Best musculoskeletal initiative – IPRS Health with HS2
As we all know, during the Covid-19 pandemic, employers had to adapt quickly to allow their employees to work from home where possible.
This was very much the case with employees working for HS2, the construction firm building the new northern high-speed rail link. An internal audit in July 2020 found employees reporting a marked decline in general wellbeing and a significant increase in general aches and pains since changing to working from a home pattern.
The solution, working with health and wellbeing provider IPRS Health, was the creation of a bespoke, one-to-one virtual ‘Get Active’ programme. This combined referral screening, clinical assessment, exercise prescription and motivational sessions between the occupational health nurses, physiotherapists and other healthcare professionals, such as CBT therapists, counsellors, GPs and consultants.
The 12-month exercise programme consisted of an initial assessment with a chartered physiotherapist. This included physical resilience, wellbeing, musculoskeletal and Covid-19 screening and functional testing.
The experience of the pandemic illustrated the downsides as well as the positives of home working. The way HS2 and IPRS responded to the challenge was proactive as well as effective and should, rightly, be applauded.”
From this, shared three-month, six-month, nine-month and 12-month physical activity goal plan was agreed between the patient and physiotherapy. The programme was broken into 12 weekly one-to-one virtual/telephone sessions, a three-month assessment, six-month follow-up, and a nine-month and 12-month follow-up.
And the results, our judges noted, have been impressive. A total of 87% of reported they had met their three-month physical activity goals, there had been a 225% increase in weekly minutes of exercise, a 23% increase in general resilience scores, an 18% increase in general wellbeing scores, an 88% increase in the functional upper body strength, a 26% increase in lower body functional strength, a 10/10 average satisfaction and a 60% improvement in self-perceived long Covid symptoms.
“The experience of the pandemic illustrated the downsides as well as the positives of home working, with musculoskeletal issues emerging as a key health and wellbeing concern. The way HS2 and IPRS responded to the challenge was proactive as well as effective and should, rightly, be applauded,” said our judges.
Best mental health initiative – Health Management
Occupational health provider Health Management won the best mental health initiative category this year for its coached eCBT (cognitive behavioural therapy) service for anxiety and depression.
Working with a large UK employer, Health Management (part of the Maximus group) was tasked with putting in place a cost-effective solution to help employees with moderate to severe cases of anxiety and depression. The solution also needed to be flexible to accommodate employees’ varying work schedules.
Employees were either referred by managers or could self-refer to the service, with the eCBT platform available online 24/7. Employees were led through eight online CBT sessions, comprising three to five modules.
The addition of health and wellbeing coaching to the eCBT was a creative response to what can often be a complex challenge.”
The innovative element on top of this was the addition of motivational support from trained health and wellbeing coaches. This has led to improved mental health outcomes, improved symptom reduction, increased work-related functioning and reduced relapse prevention.
Users reported their work-life balance had improved, they had become less insular and less likely to react negatively. Seven out of 10 had achieved “clinically significant” reduction in their symptoms of depression and/or anxiety.
Our judges were impressed by the additional coaching element, including the feedback that it had led to higher engagement and reduced drop-out rates, including, as one participant had put it that it had kept them “accountable and responsible” for their mental health “journey”.
“The addition of health and wellbeing coaching to the eCBT was a creative response to what can often be a complex challenge and, while the overall numbers going through the programme have been relatively small to date, the results have been positive,” they said.