We are recognising International Stress Awareness Week from 7 November to 11 November. A time to raise awareness of stress prevention and reducing the stigma associated with mental health issues.
The ‘2022/23 priorities and operational planning guidance’ outlines ten key NHS priorities, one of which is to further invest in their workforce. As part of this focus, the NHS promises to ‘continue to support the health and wellbeing of our staff’ and ‘improve attendance by addressing the root causes of non-COVID related sickness absence’.
Mental health is the most reported reason for staff sickness absence in the NHS. According to NHS Digital, 24.6% of all sickness absences in May 2022 were a result of anxiety / stress / depression or other psychiatric illnesses.
People in all industries can experience mental health conditions. However, those working in health care have a higher risk of being exposed to lots of environments and circumstances that can negatively impact on their mental health.
According to the Health and Safety Executive’s 'Work-related stress, anxiety or depression statistics in Great Britain’ report, the prevalence rate for work-related stress, depression or anxiety is 55% higher in healthcare than other industries.
The 2021 report states that 2,770 health and social care workers per 100,000 people experienced stress, anxiety or depression, compared to 1,780 per 100,000 in all industries.
In this article, we are looking to understand the key elements that are impacting NHS staff’s mental health and what can be done to prioritise the issue.
What do we know about staff health and wellbeing?
Some of the key reasons we understand to be negatively affecting staff health and wellbeing are staff shortages, excessive workload and high stress levels.
We also understand the main principles of the NHS are compassion, dignity, respect and care. The NHS Constitution for England states that these values ‘…bind together the communities and people it serves – patients and public – and the staff who work for it.’
Taking the NHS principles and the words from the NHS Constitution into account we cannot ignore that all NHS staff, particularly those feeling a strain to their health and wellbeing, need to be shown the same set of values.
In an NHS Survey published March 2022, 47% of staff agreed to ‘feeling unwell in the last 12 months as a result of work related stress’ compared to 38% in 2017. From this, we can determine that mental health isn’t a new issue faced by NHS staff, but something that has been getting more prevalent over time.
Furthermore, one in ten NHS positions are currently vacant. As part of the NHS Survey, they found that only 27% of staff said they have ‘enough staff at their organisation for them to do their job properly’. Remaining employees are needing to work harder to try to meet growing demand and expectations with fewer staff, taking its toll both on their wellbeing and potentially patient safety.
These are some of the factors that are affecting staff mental health, but there are ways in which organisations can help to support their staff’s health and wellbeing.
What can be done to support staff health and wellbeing?
Improve staff experience
Ensuring staff are appropriately prepared for their roles helps to give them the right idea of what they can expect to be faced with. Having a buddying system or mental health champions in place can give staff a support network within their role, so they have someone to turn to in difficult times. Departments may choose to buddy less experienced staff with their more experienced colleagues, who can then identify who may be struggling so those people can get the right support.
Well-designed shift patterns can help staff in developing a healthy work life balance. Where possible, shifts should be organised around the needs of staff members and the organisation. There may also be the option to rotate staff between high and lower stress settings, so they have the opportunity to reflect on their health and wellbeing and put plans in place to help it.
Staff should have all their IT equipment, training and networks in place throughout their employment, particularly when starting a new role or for redeployment in another service. Having these in place can help remove any extraneous stressors that can impact on staff’s ability to carry out their day-to-day tasks, especially at times of high demand or during the pressures of working in a new environment.
Develop effective leadership
As a leader or manager in healthcare, formal and informal sessions can be organised as a form of peer support. These types of conversations can offer staff a space to discuss their thoughts or examples of moral distress that they may be exposed to during their work. Sharing knowledge gives anxious staff the opportunity to relate circumstances to more experienced employees who can offer advice.
Effective communication is important for leaders to encourage so they can support the health and wellbeing of their staff. Open communication can help bring to light any worries or struggles that staff members may be experiencing. Making sure any feedback is followed up helps to ensure that they are getting the support they need. Those in leadership may also need to remind their staff of internal resources or wellbeing services that are available to them.
Leadership teams should make addressing unnecessary bureaucracy a focus when supporting their staff. Healthcare professionals are highly skilled individuals and should have the opportunity for autonomy and control, without the stress that can come from overly commanding management.
As we have established, support for staff health and wellbeing is a prevalent and important factor for organisations to focus on.
With the NHS’s plan to prioritise support for staff health and wellbeing, many health professionals will be interested to see what strategies the sector will implement.
Please take a look at the International Stress Management Association website for further details and specialist support for health and wellbeing.
If you’re interested in learning why Advanced has supported health and social care organisations for over 20 years, take a look at our healthcare solutions.