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The challenge of engaging staff on mental health issues in the health sector

By Amanda Powell-Smith

11 May 2015
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The need for NHS employees to be supported by health and wellbeing plans is well documented. NHS Employers estimates that 30 percent of NHS sick leave is caused by stress, costing up to £400 million a year in lost productivity, and NHS England’s Five Year Forward View has highlighted the need for Trusts to help their employees.

It seems incongruous that people who work in the healthcare sector, and face traumatic life and death situations on a daily basis, are often less likely to have support for their mental health than the general population.

Like employees of any organisation, healthcare professionals need to have easy access to confidential, expert information and support. Examples do exist, including the Blue Light Infoline, recently launched by specialist charity Mind to provide specialist support to police, ambulance, fire and search and rescue teams in England and the NHS Practitioners Health Programme’s confidential helpline for doctors and dentists.

However, also like employees of any organisation, a working culture that openly recognises mental health conditions alongside physical health is critical to encourage individuals to seek the help provided.

The conversation about mental health amongst healthcare professionals needs to change. Regardless of how healthcare is structured, doctors and nurses will always have to deal with difficult decisions that impact the life of their patients. The front line is tough and, in order to turn aspirations for employee wellbeing into reality, senior leaders in NHS Trusts need to openly discuss the challenges of day to day resilience.

Less than half – 44 percent – of NHS staff in England report that their employer takes positive action on health and wellbeing, and this low level of awareness will continue until Chief Executives lead an ‘inside-out’ approach that respects NHS employees as the starting point for a healthy nation. Mental health needs to be destigmatised.

This is about more than posters in the common room or a freephone helpline. It is about leadership, line management and new culture that gets real about the role our healthcare professionals play and the support the need. Trusts that combine access to specialist support with a strong internal employee wellbeing campaign will quickly reap the benefits.