NHS staff health and wellbeing: time for action

12 December 2022

Staff sickness and absence rates have been increasing in the NHS for years. They rose sharply in late 2019 into 2020, at the start of the pandemic, and have stayed fairly high since. At the same time, there are well-documented issues with retention and recruitment. It is a perfect storm and one of the biggest strategic risks and costs for the NHS.

The NHS nationally has been responding. The NHS Long Term Plan has a whole chapter (4) on supporting NHS staff, large parts of which are dedicated to health and wellbeing, especially around mental health. The Long Term Plan also put new responsibilities on the NHS Chief People Officer, working with the national workforce group, to take action for all NHS staff to improve health and wellbeing. In November 2021 it published the new NHS health and wellbeing framework – a high-level culture change toolkit aimed at health and wellbeing staff, human resources (HR) and organisational development (OD) staff, HR and OD directors, wellbeing guardians, managers and leaders and anyone with an interest in health and wellbeing.

This national work and support is helpful but what happens in each provider organisation will be crucial. Here the picture is more variable. As this report will show, there are many examples of good but with the problem worsening and the cost and impact on quality, service provision, staff retention and recruitment increasing, more needs to be done.

In May, NHS England consulted on a new provider trust code of governance, part of which creates new responsibilities for trust boards on staff wellbeing; among the most interesting of which is a requirement to evidence how they have invested in staff wellbeing and to report on this annually.

This report is the result of a collaboration between the Good Governance Institute and Reset Health, specialists in employee health. It was inspired by staff wellbeing responsibilities in the new code of governance for provider trusts as a potential impetus for trusts to take greater action to address the prevailing issues.

The purpose of the report is to help NHS provider trust boards with how they lead on staff wellbeing and in particular to make decisions on investment in this area by providing examples of solutions and support being employed across England that are having an impact.

The report explores the scale and various challenges around NHS staff wellbeing, barriers to action and areas of good practice and solutions with impact. It ends with a series of questions and prompts for trust boards.

Daniel Taylor

Engagement Consultant

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Simon Hall

Principal Consultant

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Sue Rogerson

Principal Consultant

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