NHS Staff to Be Offered Priority Mental Health Support

Peter Russell

February 21, 2019

NHS staff in England could be entitled to priority mental health support in an effort to address the growing problem of burnout, the Government announced.

The proposal was among a package of measures to be considered as part of the 'workforce implementation plan' being led by Julian Hartley, chief executive of Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust, under the chairmanship of Baroness Dido Harding, chair of NHS Improvement.

New support would be based on recommendations in a Health Education England (HEE) report written to support the Government's long-term plan for the NHS and social care sector in England.

Caring for Those Who Care

In a speech in east London yesterday to launch HEE's NHS Staff and Learners' Mental Wellbeing Commission report, Matt Hancock, the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care accepted responsibility for "caring better for our carers" and "making sure that when somebody needs help, there's someone they can turn to, someone they can talk to".

The Commission report said that estimated rates of depression among training grade doctors was 30% and that 1 in 3 staff working in the NHS reported being unwell because of work-related stress. It estimated the cost of poor mental health in the NHS workforce to be between £1794 and £2174 per employee each year.

The Commission panel, led by Sir Keith Pearson, former chair of HEE, heard from NHS staff whose wellbeing had been adversely affected by workplace experiences, and from several families bereaved by the death of a loved one who ended their life while employed by the NHS.

It also heard from representatives of beacons of best practice where the wellbeing of colleagues was supported and championed.

The report said: "we must improve the way in which we look after ourselves and our colleagues, so they are better placed to look after the needs of their patients".

Government Reaction

The Department of Health and Social Care said new support, based on recommendations in the HEE report, could include:

  • Post-incident support for NHS frontline staff, such as peer group support or a more formal psychological assessment

  • A dedicated mental health support service giving confidential advice and support 24 hours a day

  • Fast-tracked mental health referrals for NHS employees, if requested, as a priority from either a GP or an occupational health clinician

  • Improved rest spaces for on-call staff and trainees during and after their shifts, providing security, shower facilities, and refreshments

  • An 'NHS workforce wellbeing guardian' in every NHS organisation, responsible for championing mental health and wellbeing support for staff

Professor Ian Cumming, chief executive of HEE, said: "More support is needed for those who care, and better care is needed for those studying to become healthcare professionals. This is why I am committed to making sure that the commission takes full advantage of this opportunity to make a real difference to the NHS health and care workforce and to those studying to become our future healthcare staff.

"It is vital that staff feel they are supported and that employers have the right procedures in place to offer all the help that may be needed. The mental wellbeing of staff contributes positively to patient care so we must get it right."

A 'Challenging Environment'

Sue Covill, director of development and employment at NHS Employers, commented: "The findings and recommendations of the report continue to highlight the challenging environment in which our staff and learners work, but also the dedication and commitment of our staff to continue to deliver the best care they can to patients.

"We welcome the recommendations and the continued focus on key steps employers and staff can take to support and promote wellbeing. 

"NHS trusts are working extremely hard to improve and support the wellbeing of their staff. Where this works well, organisations have strong leadership from their board to drive improvements, influence the culture of the organisation and engage with staff to provide the prevention, support and interventions needed."

The British Medical Association (BMA) said its own recent Supporting Health and Wellbeing at Work report found that only around half of doctors were aware of any services that supported them with physical and mental health problems, while almost 1 in 5 surveyed said that no services were available.

Dr Andrew Molodynski, mental health policy lead at the BMA, said: "While these measures will go a long way to providing 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."

Initial recommendations for the NHS workforce implementation plan are expected to be published in the spring, with a final plan following later in 2019.


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