NHS to pilot ‘improved’ OH as well as ‘resilience hubs’

The NHS is to pilot an “improved” occupational health service for NHS staff incorporating “a wider wellbeing offer” as well as trial “resilience hubs” to support staff mental health.

The moves were unveiled in the NHS People Plan, which was published in July after having been delayed by the pressures of having to deal with the coronavirus pandemic.

The plan outlined a range of measures to support staff health and wellbeing. These include more “safe spaces” for staff to rest, recuperate and manage the physical and psychological demands of the work.

When it came to psychological support and treatment, the report said NHS England and NHS Improvement would “pilot an approach to improving staff mental health by establishing resilience hubs working in partnership with occupational health programmes to undertake proactive outreach and assessment, and co-ordinate referrals to appropriate treatment and support for a range of needs”.

Equally, NHS England and NHS Improvement would work to “pilot improved occupational health support in line with the SEQOHS standard”, it added.

This, the report said, would mean working “in partnership with the resilience hub and local mental health services” so that occupational health services could “provide a wider wellbeing offer, to ensure that staff are supported to stay well and in work.”

On top of this there should be a focus on creating and sustaining physically healthy work environments as well as more support to help employees switch off properly from work, the report recommended.

As it argued: “Employers should make sure line managers and teams actively encourage wellbeing to decrease work-related stress and burnout. To do this, they must make sure staff understand that they are expected to take breaks, manage their work demands together and take regular time away from the workplace. Leaders should role model this behaviour.”

The NHS should also ensure that employees aged 40 years and over, and especially from the age of 55 onwards, should have a career conversation with their line manager, HR and occupational health. “This should be to discuss any adjustments needed to their role and their future career intentions. It should also include signposting to financial advice – in particular on pensions,” the report added.

Other developments outlined within the plan included ensuring that all NHS organisations have “a wellbeing guardian” in place and that, from January, all advertised job roles should be available for flexible working patterns. All NHS organisations should complete risk assessments for vulnerable staff, including black and ethnic minority employees, and, from December, a violence reduction standard will be launched. On top of this, a new quarterly staff survey will be used to better track morale, which will be in addition to the service’s current annual survey.

Health secretary Matt Hancock said: “Every single person working in the NHS has contributed to an unprecedented national effort to beat back this virus and save lives. They have protected us and in return this government will do everything in its power to protect and support them.”

A further People Plan will follow the government’s spending review, which is due to be published in the autumn.

And this version of the plan would be key in showing that implementation will be backed by hard cash, argued Dr Pallavi Bradshaw, medicolegal lead, risk prevention at Medical Protection,

“The People Plan sets out some credible support initiatives that NHS staff should expect employers to address, such as every NHS organisation having a wellbeing guardian in place. We hope to see more concrete commitment to their implementation – through the support of central government funding – in the next iteration of the plan,” said Dr Bradshaw.

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