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Improving the health of NHS staff

Trade unions and employers have pledged their support for a review demanding more action to improve the health and well-being of NHS staff.

The interim NHS Health and Wellbeing Review review by occupational health expert Dr Steve Boorman heard from 11,000 staff and numerous professional groups. It found levels of sickness absence in the NHS are reducing, but at 10.7 days a year on average per employee are still high for the public sector. Many staff reported ‘significant’ levels of stress as well as musculoskeletal and mental health problems. Many did not believe their senior managers or organisations took a positive interest in their wellbeing. The review found much good practice but also concern that occupational health services were ‘inconsistent and in some cases inadequate.’ There was a lack of consistent line management support to enable staff to benefit from health and well-being programmes. Among the review’s key priorities and recommendations are: 

  • two million more people to be physically active by 2012
  • further reductions in smoking, drinking and obesity rates
  • more early intervention services to tackle work and lifestyle-related ill health 
  • health and wellbeing to be a core element of trust business and routinely monitored.

Dr Boorman said the NHS should become an ‘exemplar’ for the rest of the economy. He said innovative approaches to support staff health and wellbeing would benefit patients, improve productivity and reduce costs. The CSP welcomed the report. CSP chair Liz Cavan said she hoped the recommendation that early intervention services be routinely available for NHS staff with musculoskeletal disorders and mental health conditions would be ‘put into practice at the earliest opportunity.’ Liz Cavan said physios played a key role in occupational health services and hoped ‘financial challenges’ would not constrain trusts from radically improving these. The Social Partnership Forum, a body that brings together NHS employers, trade unions and the Department of Health, also welcomed the report. The SPF said: ‘We urge all NHS organisations to work in partnership to investigate and understand the deep-rooted causes of ill-health amongst their staff and to develop innovative solutions that will ultimately benefit patient care.’

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