Multiple long-term conditions

From health to care: a healthy workforce is a must for the NHS

9 March 2022
3 min read

The State of Health and Care 2022 report exposes the significant changes needed to get the NHS on track. Our Programme Director for multiple long-term conditions, Barbara Reichwein, argues that this needs to start with supporting the health of the NHS workforce.

The State of Health and Care 2022 report from the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) does not make for a happy read. It exposes the scale of the push required to get the NHS on track. But I love its starting point, which is that to set the NHS on a sustainable footing, we need to start with the health of its people.

At Impact on Urban Health, we look at ways to reduce inequalities in health, so that everyone has the chance to live a healthy life. The wellbeing of our healthcare workers is an integral part of that.

Improving the NHS work environment

Specifically, we need to start with the NHS work environment and its health effects on staff. The health and wellbeing of healthcare workers is an urgent foundation to get right if we are to help the NHS deliver world-leading care in the UK.

Health must be understood here in its broad sense. Our work and health are closely linked and this report does a great job identifying the aspects of work that can make NHS staff healthy or sick.

Flexible work and shift patterns, pay and benefits, autonomy and career progression – the topics covered in the report are health issues in their own right. They contribute to a healthy, happy and productive workforce when done well (see Taylor Review (2017)). But they damage the health of people and nations when done poorly.

This has never been clearer than over the last 18 months. 64% of the NHS workforce reported that they were now finding it more difficult to maintain their mental health as a result of the pandemic (RSA, All Clapped Out).

Strengthening the NHS as an employer is therefore not only essential to deliver healthcare, but is a necessary route to slowing the growth in health inequity in the UK.

Supporting staff health

At Impact on Urban Health, we explore the practical changes that can help us make healthcare more equitable. We are finding out how to make people’s work, homes and financial situation healthy and thereby make cities places in which health thrives.

We’re working with one of the largest employers in our boroughs, Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust. By doing so, we are learning how to develop working practices that support staff health in the NHS work environment.

Here are some of the ways we work with partners to improve urban health and tackle NHS vacancies, illness and burnout.

64% of the NHS workforce reported that they were now finding it more difficult to maintain their mental health as a result of the pandemic

Working conditions

The Night Club is an award-winning programme addressing the specific needs of shift workers across several industries, including healthcare. By identifying and addressing the root causes of fatigue, it cultivates a healthier, happier, and more engaged workforce.

Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust teamed up with Liminal Space to tackle the health effects of shift work. They join a growing number of employers using the methodology such as Coop, ALDI, GXO, Morrisons, John Lewis, Thames Water, Veolia and Transport For London.

Mental health

Our investment in staff psychologists, with tailored support for the NHS workforce from Black and other minoritised communities, offers confidential advice and support. It forms an integral part of a suite of resources our Foundation funds in the Trust’s staff health and wellbeing programme, ‘Showing we care about you‘.

Financial health

This is not one of the IPPR report’s factors for a more sustainable workforce, but we think it is a worthy contender. While the report looks at wages, this must extend to supporting staff to maintain good financial health and resilience. We are currently exploring how financial advice and support could be integrated into a workplace setting, including a healthcare one.

We are far from finished. Alongside our partners we are exploring other factors contributing to health, including flexible working and looking at how we can tackle longstanding issues of diversity, equality and inclusion within the healthcare service.

This State of Health and Care 2022 report from the IPPR offers an important steer in recognising that we stand at a defining crossroads. Practical insights into how to grow NHS workforce capacity will be needed to deliver not only better health and care provision in the UK, but support a fairer and more equal economic recovery process for people and their health.

Patrick Reyburn

Want to find out more about the 'Showing we care about you' programme?

Patrick works to create a positive impact for patients and staff at Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust.

Contact Patrick Reyburn

More from our multiple long-term conditions programme