Improve health of NHS workforce, experts say

Published on Friday, 13 January 2012 11:34
Posted by Scott Buckler

The NHS should do more to improve the health and wellbeing of its workforce by following NICE's public health guidance, an independent panel of government advisors has said

The NHS Future Forum, headed up by Professor Steve Field, wants the NHS to help its workforce of 1.4 million to live healthily and spread healthy messages with family, friends and patients.

Last year, the first ever audit within the NHS of NICE's public health guidance for the workplace revealed that not enough is being done to encourage staff to improve their health.

While, a study by the Audit Commission highlighted large variations in levels of sickness absence across the NHS and found that following NICE's workplace advice could make the NHS more productive and contribute to saving £290 million lost through sick days.

In their second report to the health secretary Andrew Lansley, the Future Forum recommend that NHS organisations, in partnership with their staff, design and implement a strategy for improving staff mental and physical health and wellbeing.

They should report annually on their progress against this strategy and hold their Chief Executive, or other senior responsible officer or partner, to account against it.

Key features of this strategy should include using NICE public health guidance, of which there are a number of pieces developed specifically for the workplace:


  • Promoting mental wellbeing at work
  • The management of sickness and incapacity for work
  • promoting physical activity in the workplace
  • Workplace interventions to promote smoking cessation.

The report also recommends developing managers and leaders to support staff mental and physical health and wellbeing, and holding managers and leaders to account for doing so in their performance appraisals.

In response to the report, the government has agreed that the role of NHS organisations in investing in the health and wellbeing of their staff is “crucial”, and welcomes the renewed focus on the issue that the Forum's report brings.

They say that “given the part they play in preventing poor health and promoting healthy living among the people who use their services, it is important that employers do not forget the health and wellbeing of their own staff”.

Going forward, the government has announced that it will work with the Royal College of Physicians and Faculty of Occupational Medicine to support improvement within the NHS in relation to the audit of NICE public health guidance, ensuring that issues relating to staff health and wellbeing are addressed.

NICE Fellow Dr Richard Preece, a Consultant in Occupational Medicine at Mid Cheshire Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, who led the last NHS audit on NICE workplace guidance, said: “We know from the national audit last year that there is a lot more employers can do to tackle important health issues at work, such as smoking, obesity, physical activity, and mental wellbeing.

“Having a healthier workforce results in better performance and improved productivity but it's not always clear to employers what they should be doing to improve the health of their workers.

“This is where the NICE guidance really helps. It tells employers, small and large, in all sectors effective ways of improving staff health and wellbeing. Employers need to spend money wisely and the guidance tells them which actions work but can also save money.”

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