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Every NHS organisation should create a new board-level role to promote the mental health wellbeing of their staff, Health Education England (HEE) has said.
HEE envisages the introduction of one NHS workforce wellbeing guardian per NHS organisation, a role that could be taken by an existing executive director.
This is the first recommendation HEE presented as part of a report published today – NHS Staff and Learner Mental Wellbeing Commission report – which was commissioned by the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) last year.
The DHSC will consider HEE’s recommendations on the mental health wellbeing of NHS staff and learners as part of the upcoming workforce implementation plan.
NHS workforce wellbeing guardian
An NHS workforce wellbeing guardian will be responsible for assuring the mental wellbeing of their staff, the report said.
In addition, the guardian will feed in information to the board to help them set and monitor their performance in this regard.
The report said that each organisation will set out how their guardian should work but this should be in line with ‘a common NHS framework, allowing for local best practice in supporting learner and staff mental wellbeing’.
HEE said the guardian should work in alignment with a workplace wellbeing leader, who will report to them and actively listen to concerns by members of staff.
Commenting on the report, HEE chief executive Professor Ian Cumming said: ‘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.’
The report also called for ‘post-incident support’ to be available to all NHS frontline staff, such as peer support.
It encouraged NHS service managers to ‘develop incident protocols’ that would set the best course of action to follow in cases where staff face situations that would ‘disproportionately impact on their wellbeing’.
HEE also said a national NHS ‘Samaritans-style’ service should be introduced to offer NHS staff 24 hours a day access to ‘a complete emotional support service’.
NHS membership bodies have welcomed the recommendations set out in HEE’s report but added that more needs to be done to improve mental health support to staff.
Commenting on HEE’s report Mental Health Network chair Paul Jenkins said: ‘This report shines a welcome light and makes sound recommendations on looking after the mental wellbeing of our staff and learners. We particularly welcome the announcement of the wellbeing guardians who will champion staff wellbeing at board level.’
However, NHS Providers head of policy Amber Jabbal said that NHS trusts are already making improvements to the support they offer to staff but ‘we can do more to improve staff morale by tackling work-life balance, improve the working environment and offer more training and development support to staff’.
More than 400 doctors died by suicide between 2011 and 2015, according to Office for National Statistics data.
HEE’s report comes after NHS leaders already pledged last year to expand a self-referral local scheme for doctors – the NHS Practitioner Health Programme – to support an extra 110,000 doctors across England.