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April 12, 2011

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Trusts fail to tackle staff obesity

Taking action to address staff obesity remains a thorny issue for most NHS trusts, according to an audit report on the progress that health-care organisations have made in implementing guidance on employee health.

The report, issued today (12 April) by the Royal College of Physicians (RCP) and the Faculty of Occupational Medicine (FoM), reveals that just 15 per cent of NHS trusts participating in the audit have a policy or plan to help combat staff obesity. Less than a third promoted healthy food and drink choices in their shops and vending machines.

In his review in 2009 of sickness absence and employees’ health in the NHS, Dr Steve Boorman recommended that trusts implement guidance from the National Institute for Health and Clinical Expertise (NICE) on promoting mental-health and well-being at work. The review found clear links between better staff health and increased productivity and patient satisfaction, as well as the potential for substantial cost savings.

The RCP/FoM audit examined, for the first time, how far trusts had implemented mental-health and other related NICE guidance. It assessed data from 282 trusts in England with a combined employee workforce of 900,000.

Researchers examined several guidance-related themes, including long-term sickness absence, the work environment, physical activity in the workplace, promoting mental well-being, smoking-cessation interventions, and obesity. This final area was found to be the issue on which the least action had been taken by trusts.

A report by the Department of Health in 2009 estimated that about 300,000 of the 1.2million-strong NHS workforce would be classified as obese, and a further 400,000 as overweight. The failure of many trusts to tackle the issue was met with profound disappointment by Dr Sian Williams, director of the RCP’s Health and Work Development Unit. Commenting on the wider impact on patient care, she said: “Patients expect health professionals to practise what they preach and trusts need to implement the best management practices to maintain the health of their staff.”

The RCP/FoM report also found that trusts are failing to follow guidance on physical activity, with only 32 per cent of the audited organisations having a plan or policy to encourage and support staff to take more exercise. Around half of trusts encourage staff to walk or cycle to meetings, provide information about walking and cycling routes around the worksite, or to and from work, and encourage staff to use stairs rather than lifts.

In other areas, the auditors found evidence that greater progress had been achieved. All trusts have a policy for the management of long-term sickness absence, and virtually all managers at these organisations are required to make appropriate inquiries to support an earlier return to work, and to plan this with the employee.

However, only 19 per cent of trusts monitor the timeliness of the various stages of occupational health-care – e.g. time from start of absence to referral; time from receipt of referral to appointment with an OH clinician; and time from appointment to issue of a report to the referring manager.

On mental health, 63 per cent of trusts provided training for line managers on how to promote and protect employees’ psychological well-being, and 60 per cent of trusts provided training to ensure line managers are able to identify and respond with sensitivity to employees’ emotional concerns.

The vast majority of trusts have also implemented guidance on smoking cessation, with more than 90 per cent having provided and publicised resources to help employees kick the habit.

Overall, the auditors found trusts that prioritised health and well-being at a high level within the organisation made more progress on implementing the guidance than trusts that didn’t have such a board-level focus.

Dean Royles, director of NHS Employers, said: “The NHS Employers organisation welcomes this useful report, which highlights the importance of board support for improving staff health. We welcome the report’s findings that most trusts are committed to smoking cessation.

“The NHS Employers organisation is supporting trusts with resources, such as our website NHS Well-being at work, which shares best practice. We will be using this report’s findings as part of our programme of work on staff health, with a particular focus this year on providing close support for boards.”

A copy of the full report, Implementing NICE public-health guidance for the workplace, is available on the RCP website.

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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