“People wrote back to say ‘the Trust caring about my mental health means a lot to me’”
Julie Screaton is Chief People Officer at Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust. Her wide remit includes being responsible for the health and wellbeing of over 16,000 staff members. With support from charitable funding, the Trust runs Showing We Care About You – one of the most ambitious programme of benefits for healthcare staff in the NHS. It offers help to support the health and wellbeing of staff – from services to give up smoking to financial advice.
How does a programme like Showing We Care About You contribute to the work of Guy's and St Thomas'?
We have recently refreshed the Trust’s strategy and the three pillars are people, patients and partnerships. People are critical to what we do as a care-giving NHS organisation. We can only deliver care that's effective if we have a healthy, happy and motivated workforce. This programme helps enormously with our staff feeling valued and supported in their work.
What’s special about the programme?
It’s the breadth of the offering – from physiotherapy to stress management and many other things in between. It tackles both, treatment and prevention: from helping staff to get back to fitness after a period of ill health to promoting wellbeing. The fact that our offer is of such high quality and that we can make it available to such a high volume of people is unique. I’m not aware of any other trusts offering support in the same way. The programme impacts on the performance measures that determine how we are rated by our regulators, so there’s an economic case for doing it too.
How do you ensure the programme is successful and meets the needs of staff?
We monitor key metrics like our staff turnover, retention, sickness and engagement. Our staff engagement score is the highest of any comparable NHS organisation and our quarterly staff friends and family test tells us that most people recommend us as a place to work and be treated. All those great metrics are linked with the programme. We also use focus groups to understand impact – we know, for example, that up to 70% of people who have used our smoking cessation service gave up for the following four weeks. People also speak to us directly. When we made available our mindfulness app, I was really surprised at the response – tens of people wrote to me to say “you writing to me, caring about my mental health, means a lot to me”.
Showing We Care About You has been running for some time – what’s different this year?
In the new NHS long term plan, promoting better mental health is front and centre and it’s a key focus for us too. Our current offer includes Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), psychological support as well as a meditation app and online sleep improvement programme. Staff really valued the psychological support available following the London terrorist incidents that took place in 2017 that deeply impacted many of us. This year we’re looking to learn from these events and offer proactive help for people working in difficult environments or after being involved in a difficult a problematic case. It’s great that people today are more likely to say “you know what, that was difficult and I need some help”. They are better at coming forward and we need to be able to respond to that.
Also, evidence tells us that low back pain is very common in healthcare and has a great impact on absenteeism, so our physiotherapy team are working on an initiative to support staff with back pain.
How does charitable support help?
Without the additional funding from our charity, we wouldn’t be able to offer our workforce what we can to support their health and wellbeing on such a scale. As far as we know, this is the highest contribution of charitable funding towards staff wellbeing of any comparable trusts.
As an NHS organisation, we run occupational health services which is focused on doing pre-employment checks and intervening when staff are off with health issues. Access to charitable funding allows us to provide greater support for people to prevent sickness in the first place – build resilience and manage their wellbeing so they don’t just experience the services when things go wrong. It’s a phenomenal benefit to the organisation and it translates to us being more efficient and effective at delivering care.
We also want the programme to help raise more awareness of other support that staff can access from our charity – for example, getting funding to do research or present at an international conference – as well as opportunities to fundraise.
What are your personal health and wellbeing goals this year?
Building exercise into my working day. Like many people, I commute into town and have a busy job that doesn’t give me much time to relax. I just got a new pair of trainers, I am pleased to report! We have two major hospitals 30-minute walk away from each other plus all our other sites, so my challenge is to do my 10,000 steps by walking between sites rather than jumping on the staff bus. I’m also the Trust’s healthy eating ambassador so I need to do some more of that, along with weight management. Our eldest son’s wedding is coming up and I want to look good in those pictures!
What would you say to colleagues who are yet to take advantage of the benefits under Showing We Care About You?
Individual and team wellbeing is massively important. Making time in our busy lives can be a challenge but please consider what the cost is to you if your wellbeing and resilience deteriorate. The self-care you do today will set you up for the future.
I recognise that some staff probably still feel it’s a bit of a luxury – we need to get better at saying “it’s ok to use these services and we expect you to do that because your patients and your colleagues need you to be the best you can be”.
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