· 3 min read · Features

Case study: keeping health practitioners healthy


Keeping doctors and nurses healthy is harder than you might think, given the current NHS challenges

Locations: 60 sites across Bradford, Airedale and Craven

Employees: 2,900

Number in HR team: 70, including those working across occupational health, HR planning, benefits, learning and development, leadership, OD, and a new staff bank service introduced to reduce reliance on agency workers across the Trust

Case study focus: the importance of a holistic health and wellbeing strategy at an NHS Trust

The organisation

Bradford District Care NHS Foundation Trust (BDCT) is a provider of award-winning mental health, learning disabilities and community health services across Bradford, Airedale and Craven. Its healthcare staff include mental health nurses, school nurses, psychiatrists, healthcare support workers, district nurses, health visitors, and allied health professionals (including psychologists, occupational therapists, speech and language therapists, and foot health specialists).

The challenge

There’s perhaps no tougher gig at the moment than working within the NHS. A cursory glance at headlines over the past few years gives a strong indication as to why. A Guardian survey revealed last year that NHS staff are more likely to feel stressed because of their job than any other public sector workers; 61% reported feeling stressed all or most of the time and 59% felt more stressed in 2015 than ever before.

The survey also found that just over a quarter (26%) don’t take a break at all, and only around one in 10 gets more than half an hour. The large majority of NHS workers (96%) also work beyond their contracted hours, doing an average of five extra hours per week.

And yet the idea that health workers are just as in need of advice and support around their health and wellbeing as any other employee might still seem a little surprising. These people are experts after all, so the most capable of keeping themselves healthy you might presume.

Not so, points out head of workforce development at BDCT Fay Davies. “Sometimes with frontline staff their focus is so much on the patients they might forget to focus on themselves,” she says. “When you’ve had a really busy, stressful shift it’s hard to think about how you’re going to spend your evening looking after yourself. You might feel too tired and it’s easier to eat unhealthily if you’re tired and stressed out.”

She adds that working within the NHS can be a physically demanding job. “Our nurses and health workers are walking around a lot but also doing things like compression bandaging on heavy legs, and a lot of kneeling,” she says. “We’ve got a whole range of staff – so maintenance staff who are on their hands and knees a lot, for example. And out sitting [office] staff need support too.”

The method

The Trust has developed a comprehensive range of health services to become one of only 12 NHS Trusts identified as centres of excellence here.

Regarding its mental health offering, the Trust now provides a range of mindfulness and resilience training sessions and a mindfulness app ‘Headspace'. It has mental health first aider trainers sitting throughout the Trust and will be investing more in talking therapies for those facing more complex issues such as depression. “If you look across the NHS mental health issues are the main reason for sickness absences,” says Davies regarding the importance of this offering.

The Trust is particularly proud of its new physiotherapy service, offered in partnership with occupational physiotherapy provider PhysioMed. Davies explains that previously employees had to be referred through occupational health, which could be a slow process and didn’t feel very accessible to staff. “Now they self-refer to be seen by our in-house physio five days a week,” she says. “They just ring or email.”

BDCT also encourages staff to take advantage of weight loss and pedometer challenges, yoga, pilates, a discounted masseuse, an app where they can personalise the dashboard to track their sleep patterns and diet for example, and a ‘Coach to 5K’ initiative. “Everyone needs a bit of support if they want to lose weight,” says Davies, reporting that the 5K challenge has been particularly successful in attracting those who might not normally get involved in fitness challenges.

The result

A notable success so far has been a reduction in the number of staff going off sick because of musculoskeletal problems, achieved since the in-house physio service was introduced. The organisation intends to build on this by offering preventative sessions on back, shoulder and neck care.

Davies and her team have also been highly encouraged by the long-term changes they’ve witnessed certain staff making – continuing to lose weight after weight loss challenges, and parking further away to get more exercise for example.

Future initiatives will include a health trainer service for employees to further discuss behavioural changes they’d like to make, such as quitting smoking; and training for managers to reflect the impact good and bad management has on workplace happiness and mental health. Closer data analysis of reduced absence rates and improved return to work times is also the aim going forwards.

Though the focus for Bradford is on advising other NHS Trusts, Davies says organisations in many sectors could learn from its work here. “Whatever job someone does, whether heavy lifting or sitting at a desk, there’s always a risk of MSK conditions,” she says, adding: “For any organisation your workforce is your biggest cost, so it makes business sense to look after your staff and support them.”