RCP president, Professor Jane Dacre comments on staff health and wellbeing in the NHS.
The RCP has a long commitment to promoting the balance between caring for patients who are already sick and ensuring that people don’t become sick in the first instance. There have been many public health successes in recent years, including a decline in the number of smokers and commitments from government to address the obesity epidemic through the upcoming Childhood Obesity Strategy. However, there is a group that has historically been over looked, those that care for the sick, the NHS staff.
In 2015 the RCP published the report Work and wellbeing in the NHS: why staff health matters to patient care. In this report we highlighted some of the barriers to improving staff wellbeing in the NHS such as the inability of staff working shifts to access healthy food, the poor provision of smoking cessation services and lack of availability for staff to access mental health support services to name a few.
With high levels of obesity, work related stress at an all-time high in the NHS, sickness rates in the NHS 27% higher than the UK public sector average, never mind the well documented direct links between patient care and staff wellbeing it is a shock that this group has been over looked for so long.
I am delighted to see that the importance of NHS staff health and wellbeing is starting to be recognised and measures are being introduced to improve health and wellbeing. The announcement on Saturday that NHS England will invest £450 million in 2016/17 into staff health improvement programmes is very much welcomed. The commitments to workplace physio, mental health support and the reduction in the prevalence of junk food are key actions that the RCP has long supported and called for.
The way that the NHS treats its staff has a huge impact on the way that the NHS operates. It is fundamental to clinicians’ relationships with our patients and the NHS’ engagement with wider society. How can clinicians support patients in making healthy lifestyle choices when the NHS is not listening to its own advice? It is difficult to advise someone with diabetes on a new diet plan when the coffee shop in the hospital reception could be serving a coffee containing 25 teaspoons of sugar? How can someone suffering stress after a long night shift really provide support and advice to a patient with a mental health condition? These issues must be addressed if we are going to be able to care for our patients effectively.
The £450 million for the NHS will not immediately solve these problems though. Many of these issues will require long term changes in areas where the NHS is notoriously difficult to change. Such as, culture, external provider contracts and in some instances the physical architecture of NHS buildings. While results may not be immediate and the programmes may face difficulties, the RCP strongly supports NHS England to continue with this programme to ensure that long term benefits to patient care and staff wellbeing can be realised.
 CIPD. Absence management: annual survey report 2013. London: CIPD, 2013.