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August 19, 2009

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Blueprint outlines NHS health and well-being shake-up

The NHS could save more than half a billion pounds a year and improve patient care by positioning staff health and well-being at the heart of the organisation. This is one of the striking messages of an interim report on the NHS Health and Well-being Review.

Led by chief medical advisor to the Royal Mail Group, Dr Steve Boorman, the review highlights that the NHS loses more than 10 million working days a year due to sickness absence alone, while many employees are working when they feel unwell.

Unison head of health, Karen Jennings warned that comparing sickness rates in the NHS with those in private companies is “like trying to compare apples and oranges”.

She explained: “You must look at the underlying causes for absence. Almost 56,000 NHS workers were physically assaulted in England alone last year — that will obviously have led to staff needing time off. Working in the NHS is physically and mentally demanding, and back injuries, needlestick injuries and cross-infections all take a toll on workers’ health.”

But Dr Boorman is adamant that sickness absence in the Service can be reduced by a third, and yield direct cost savings of £555m. He said: “While some may challenge whether it is feasible to suggest that the NHS can improve its performance on staff health and well-being to the same extent that leading private companies have achieved, I have seen clear examples from the NHS during this review which suggest that this can be done.”

Staff ill health is also a barrier to the provision of consistent, high-quality patient care — with more than 80 per cent of the 11,000 NHS staff who took part in the review’s staff-perception survey reporting that the quality of patient care they deliver suffers when they are unwell.

Sian Thomas, director at NHS Employers, said: “As health is our core business we must put the health issues of our own staff at centre stage so that we all become role-models for our communities.”

She added: “The report comes at a time when the NHS is facing increasing financial pressures, and its recommendations are made in recognition that tackling staff health issues is not just the right thing to do as a good employer, but it will also help improve patient care and deliver financial savings.”

The report lists a host of suggestions to help position staff health and well-being at the core of NHS operations, including:

  • a nationally-agreed minimum service specification for NHS staff health and well-being services, underpinned by common performance metrics to enable benchmarking and monitoring;
  • routinely available early-intervention programmes in all Trusts for common illnesses and injuries, such as musculoskeletal disorders and mental-health conditions;
  • the appointment of a board executive champion for staff health and well-being; and
  • improved training to ensure that managers are properly equipped to support staff and address their health and well-being issues.

The final review will be published by the end of this year. The interim report is available here.

What makes us susceptible to burnout?

In this episode  of the Safety & Health Podcast, ‘Burnout, stress and being human’, Heather Beach is joined by Stacy Thomson to discuss burnout, perfectionism and how to deal with burnout as an individual, as management and as an organisation.

We provide an insight on how to tackle burnout and why mental health is such a taboo subject, particularly in the workplace.


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