Guardians of workforce mental wellbeing should be introduced across the NHS, according to a report published by HEE (Health Education England).
The NHS staff and learners’ mental well-being commission has called for every NHS organisation to introduce dedicated staff at board level to provide oversight and support towards promoting staff mental health.
The report calls for wellbeing guardians, with the remit of reporting concerns about overall staff health to trust boards and setting expectations and monitor performance within organisations, should be introduced in primary and secondary care settings.
Guardians, who would operate under nine principles, would be further supported by a workplace wellbeing leader.
The report endorses and reiterates calls already set out by the BMA in its Supporting Health and Wellbeing at Work report, including proactive board-level engagement on workforce health and wellbeing, as well as improved access to occupational health services, the provision of post-incident support and debriefing for frontline staff, and training for supervisors to help staff in distress.
Other proposals in the report include providing ‘check-ins’ to assess wellbeing for all students within two weeks of starting a placement in healthcare, a rapid access referral pathway to occupational health and a national NHS ‘Samaritans-style’ service to provide complete emotional support service to NHS staff and spaces for staff to rest and sleep, with the report referencing the BMA’s Fatigue and Facilities Charter.
The report adds that the health service should institute clear protocols and psychological support for staff affected by suicide.
Led by former HEE chair Sir Keith Pearson and Simon Gregory, the director and dean of education and quality, Midlands and East, the report was commissioned to feed into the NHS Long Term Plan.
Responding to the report, BMA mental health policy lead Andrew Molodynski (pictured below) welcomed the commission’s findings as timely but warned that words must be met by action.
He said: ‘Staff are fundamental to the delivery of patient care in the NHS and without a healthy workforce our health service can barely function, let alone thrive.
‘Given the current pressures that the NHS workforce is under, the secretary of state for health and social care’s commitment to improving mental health and wellbeing support for staff is timely and necessary.
‘We know that doctors’ mental health and wellbeing has been adversely affected by the increasing demands of their work and this is true also for medical students who are dealing with stress, fatigue and exposure to traumatic clinical situations, very often without adequate support on hand.
‘The BMA recently called for greater provision of mental health support for NHS staff as its report found that only about half of doctors were aware of any services that help them with physical and mental health problems at their workplace – while one-in-five respondents said that no support services are provided.
‘While these measures will go a long way to provide much-needed support for NHS workers who are struggling with their mental health and overall wellbeing, more must be done to address the wider pressures on the system, such as underfunding, workforce shortages and rising patient demand, so we can reduce the number needing to seek help in the first place.’
BMA junior doctors committee chair Jeeves Wijesuriya (pictured below) also welcomed the report, particularly its support for increasing and improving access to rest facilities for junior doctors.
He said: ‘The report indicates that providing appropriate access to breaks and rest facilities would arguably have the biggest impact on health service staff’s wellbeing, in line with what the BMA has sought to promote through our fatigue and facilities charter.
‘We are working with the department of health and social care, and other stakeholders to deliver these much-needed resources, and it is reassuring that this report has reiterated support for such measures.
‘We now need action to ensure these facilities are accessible, free to use and provided at every trust as we have seen too many junior doctors tragically killed or injured trying to drive home after long shifts when faced with charges to access rest spaces, or told they are unavailable.’