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Dean Royles
Director, NHS Employers
Dean Royles

Reflections on health, work and wellbeing at the Labour Party Conference

Authors: Dean Royles Dean Royles, Director of NHS Employers

10 October 2011

It seems that health, work and wellbeing is everywhere at present. There is a conference almost every month, workshops, publications, the message has even reached our television screens with multi coloured plasticine people encouraging viewers to be fit and healthy.

So you would think that everything was going well on the health and well-being front, and to a certain extent you would be right, but that is not the whole story. We are only a couple of years in to the programme that was launched by Dame Carol Black’s review of the health of working age people and although progress has been good we still have a long way to go.

In the NHS, following Dr Steve Boorman’s report on the health and well-being of NHS staff, we have been moving forward with embedding the recommendations he made in our organisations and some have already shown outstanding results. But  wouldn’t it be great if we could get that spread right across the NHS?

I’ve never been one to take a good example and extrapolate it claim all is good – that would create a conspiracy of optimism, but neither should we take a poor example and blame organisational failings. Not to make excuses, but to recognise reality, in the NHS we are trying to change the way that we see the relationship between employers and their employees at the same time as we are going through the biggest change to the service since it was created more than sixty years ago. It is a tough task for managers and staff alike to embed a whole new way of thinking into their policy and practice at the same as looking for major savings and efficiencies.

There is, though, another side to this which many managers and staff are just beginning to appreciate. Managing the health and well-being of staff well, investing in safe, healthy workplaces with safe, healthy practices actually saves money. And it saves it not just this year, but next year and every year. It also improves patient outcomes and experience.

Take the trust in Southampton for example. They had problems with sickness absence and how it was managed so they introduced a new system for managing staff back to work as soon as it was viable – good for the organisation and also good for the employee, because the Black Report has shown that being in work is good for health and helps people get better quicker. The outcome was that they have already beaten their sickness absence target, set for April 2013 and reduced their Agency staff spend by 26%.

In Blackpool, Fylde and Wyre there were problems with staff stress, identified through the NHS staff survey, so they decided to take a holistic approach and develop a programme that looked at bullying, violence, stress and a range of other issues. The outcome was that over a period of time they managed to reduce the causes of stress as well as staff stress levels and through doing so also reduced sickness absence levels and improved engagement.

In both of these examples there is also likely to have been an increase in patient satisfaction and improved patient experience as research shows these are closely linked to staff satisfaction and experience levels. In both cases they have also worked hard to embed the new policies in the organisational framework to ensure the good results continue.

Beyond the immediate impact these sorts of interventions have on the individuals concerned and the organisations they work for there is a longer term impact. Organisations that are embedding best health and well-being practice for the staff they have in employment now are laying the foundations for their future workers as well. As we move to a longer (higher?) working age and our staff demographic changes we need those staff to be fit and healthy. Investing in good health and well-being practice and policy now will provide major benefits in years to come for those staff that may not even have joined the NHS yet.

There is still a case to be made to GP’s, the public and some businesses that this is a proper and effective use of their time and energy but the NHS is already leading the way, taking this seriously, and developing our own fitter, healthier workforce for the future and I'm proud of the progress we have made.

Comments in Chronological Order (Total 2 Comments)

John Hamilton

10 Oct 2011 10:40AM

A good thought provoking blog. As ever it shows that the business case argument is the most powerful argument for taking health, work and wellbeing seriously, yet many employers seem blind to the fact. Sometimes all it takes a committed individual at the top of the organisation to provide the support to those within it.


12 Jan 2012 4:28AM

Now the corporate firms are realizing the importance of spending on the health care of their staff. Long before it was not considered as their responsibility or a useful expenditure in their overhead. As you have said they are now giving importance to maintain a sickness free staff force as sickness absence is eating into the productivity.