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FEB 24/2014

How can NHS trusts improve their staff health and wellbeing policies?

Since UK healthcare professionals dedicate so much of their time to looking after the health and wellbeing of others, it is only fair for them to expect that their employers will extend them the same level of care and consideration.

Within the NHS, this is a responsibility that is taken extremely seriously. NHS employers are constantly striving to introduce higher-quality health and wellbeing policies to ensure their staff's needs are properly looked after.

Last month, the Royal College of Physicians issued a report highlighting the efforts that are currently being made to enhance health and wellbeing support for NHS staff, revealing that organisations across the country are making significant progress in a number of important areas - as well as shedding light on ways in which healthcare providers could be doing better still.

Changing for the better?
The audit involved 73 per cent of NHS trusts in England and aimed to establish the progress that is being made in implementing the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) guidance on improving workplace health policies over the last few years.

Initial findings were reported in 2010, with the data released last month showcasing the progress that has been made over the last three years. It measured how NHS trusts are progressing with implementation of NICE guidance for key public health topics, including obesity, smoking cessation, physical activity, long-term sickness absence and promoting mental wellbeing.

It was found that there is a strong awareness of the importance of these issues at board level, with all but two of the NHS trusts participating in the survey having allocated a board lead for staff health and wellbeing, usually the HR director.

This awareness is helping to drive improvements in many areas - for example, 76 per cent of trusts strive to provide healthy food choices in staff restaurants, while the proportion of organisations that have plans in place to reduce staff obesity has more than doubled from 13 per cent in 2010 to 28 per cent in 2013.

However, in other areas there is still significant progress to be made, with only 57 per cent of NHS trusts having a mental wellbeing policy in place to support staff at the moment, while less than half of all trust boards measure long-term sickness absence alongside their health and wellbeing data.

More also needs to be done to offer healthy food options to night shift workers, as only 27 per cent of trusts currently make sure to do this.

Pursuing continuous improvement
The respondents to the audit represent 862,365 NHS staff in England, so its findings are to be taken seriously. Figures from the Health and Social Care Information Centre indicate that NHS workers in England took an estimated average of 9.5 working days off sick in 2012-2013, while 2009's suggested the health of staff has a direct impact on patient care, underlining the importance of getting this right.

As such, numerous efforts are being pursued to ensure continuous improvement is achieved. Further guidance from NICE about public health and the workplace is expected in the next year, while some organisations are initiating their own improvement projects.

For example, East Kent Hospitals University NHS Foundation Trust recently introduced We Care, which saw 1,500 staff and patients asked about ways of improving the working and treatment culture within the organisation, before setting out numerous targets to work towards.

Meanwhile, steps are also being taken to reduce rates of smoking among staff, to enhance mental health provision for NHS workers and to do more to guarantee safe staffing levels at all times, ensuring employees are never placed under undue pressure due to a lack of manpower.

Through these and other measures, NHS organisations aim to continue their recent progress and guarantee high standards of health and wellbeing provision for all workers within the UK health service.

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