NHS to focus on employee wellness

A focus on "establishing and promoting a local physical activity" is part of the new NHS wellbeing agenda (Image: Starwood Hotels & Resorts)

The UK's National Health Service (the NHS) is joining the movement for corporate wellness, it was announced today. Chief executive Simon Stevens has laid out plans in a major effort to ‘improve and support the health and wellbeing of 1.3 million health service staff’.

The plans were devised to address sickness absence across the NHS, the main causes of which are mental health and musculoskeletal problems. Other issues to be tackled include the diet, physical activity and staff stress levels. The aim is ‘to ensure the NHS as an employer sets a national example in the support it offers its own staff to stay healthy’.

Speaking at the Health and Care Innovation Expo 2015 conference in Manchester, Stevens detailed how the £5m initiative will help NHS organisations support their staff. There are three pillars: A major drive for improved health of NHS employees, a nationally-specified occupational health service for GPs battling stress, and national action by NHS England working with other agencies to work with catering providers to improve standards of food and nutrition for NHS staff.

Stevens said: “NHS staff have some of the most critical but demanding jobs in the country. When it comes to supporting the health of our own workforce, frankly the NHS needs to put its own house in order. At a time when arguably the biggest operational challenge facing hospitals is converting overspends on temporary agency staff into attractive flexible permanent posts, creating healthy and supportive workplaces is no longer a 'nice to have', it’s a must-do.

"And at a time when the pressures on GPs have never been greater, we need to extend the local practitioner health programmes that have been shown to help GPs stay healthy and get back to work when sick. Equally, it’s time for PFI contractors and catering firms to ‘smell the coffee’ – ditch junk food from hospitals and serve up affordable and healthy options instead. Staff, patients and visitors alike will all benefit.”

As part of pillar one, all participating organisations will have to commit to six key actions including providing access to physiotherapy and mental health talking therapies, smoking cessation and weight management services. They will also have to establish or at least promote local exercise options to staff, such as yoga or fitness classes or competitive sports teams, and encouraging healthy travel to work through the Cycle to Work scheme.