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NHS to launch major staff fitness and healthy food programme


NHS staff are to be offered a programme of fitness activities and healthy options for meals as part of a major drive to improve their wellbeing, the chief executive of NHS England will announce later today.

Health checks covering mental health and musculoskeletal problems - the two biggest causes of sickness absence across the NHS – will also be on offer to workers in the £5 million initiative.

The programme is expected to bring down some of the costs caused by staff absence from poor health, estimated to be £2.4bn a year - without including the cost of treatment and temporary workers to fill posts.

Speaking at the NHS Innovation Expo conference in Manchester later today, NHS chief executive Simon Stevens will say that “creating healthy and supportive workplaces is no longer a nice-to-have, it’s a must-do” for employers.

“When it comes to supporting the health of our own workforce, frankly the NHS needs to put its own house in order”

Simon Stevens

He will also say it is important to ensure workplaces are attractive to staff to help convert temporary workers into permanent employees, as part of an ongoing strategy to bring down trusts’ agency spending.

Trusts will be told by Mr Stevens to “ditch junk food” and that it is unacceptable for health sector organisations to be contracting with caterers that mainly sell foods which don’t meet nutritional standards

The initiative will see NHS England negotiate improvements with major catering vendors to ensure they offer nutritional information about meals, promote healthy options, and provide more balanced food choices in vending machines.

Meanwhile, ten trusts – including organisations such as Birmingham Children’s Hospital University Hospital Southampton and York Teaching Hospital – will lead the programme of activities for staff.

Simon Stevens

Simon Stevens

They will be expected to run a physical activity scheme such as yoga, zumba or sports classes, provide specific staff access to physiotherapy, mental health talking therapies, smoking and weight services, as well as provide training to managers to help promote healthy living.

The programme will then roll out to all other NHS employers over the next five years, starting in 2016 with those that have the highest rates of sickness absence and recruitment and retention issues.

GPs will also be offered a nationally-specified occupational health service for those suffering from burnout and stress.

Mr Stevens will say: “NHS staff have some of the most critical but demanding jobs in the country. When it comes to supporting the health of our own workforce, frankly the NHS needs to put its own house in order.”

NHS Employers chief executive Danny Mortimer said: “Supporting our staff to stay healthy is a key priority for employers. We look forward to continuing to support the ambitious programme being launched today.”


Readers' comments (8)

  • Can't they ask for 24/7 gyms to be set up nearby instead of trusts trying to organise activities?

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  • And I have time to do this when? Ah yes during my break that I am to often to busy to take!

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  • Surely using the money to take some of the work pressure off by having more staff or more breaks would be better use of resources and far more effective in keeping NHS workers healthy and happy.

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  • Paying us a decent wage would be nice!

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  • *Sigh*

    Stevens misses the point yet again...

    How much sickness is from something contracted at work? I lost quite a bit of time to chest infections caught from patients (these sick people coming into hospital and coughing all over the place, who would have thought it?).

    Or something related to work? I and several others I know have lost time to work-related stress, which is down to staff shortages, bullying management, ludicrous targets and caseloads, being hassled at home on your time off, ie things which lie well within the control of Mr Stevens.

    I know many people who have lost time from work following assault by patients or relatives...

    Do I need to go on?

    It would be relatively easy to quantify how much of NHS sick time is down to working conditions and until this is done accurately it is pointless having these headline grabbing "initiatives" whose sole purpose is to make it look like Stevens is doing something, when he isn't.

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  • How long is the lunch break - for those of us who have time to take one?

    Let's say half an hour. Let's say five minutes to walk to the hospital gym, maybe three minutes to get changed. At the other end, if you have worked hard enough to benefit from the exercise, you will need ten minutes to get showered and changed. Then five minutes to walk back to the ward.

    That leaves seven minutes. Just long enough for a warm-up - so maybe you won't need the shower after all.

    Of course you can do it after work. I'm lucky: my job is on the community with no exhausting physical work and I do two exercise classes a week, and the only reason I can do those is that the timing means I can go on my way home - no way would I want to leave the house again once I've got in. I can't imagine doing it after a 12-hour shift.

    I can't criticise the idea of providing healthy food in the staff canteen, though, instead of the usual junk.

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  • Perhaps NHS Boards could do some useful analysis on staff sickness absence. It would be interesting to chart a timeline over the last 5 years, which I'm sure would illustrate a correlation between poor staffing levels and inappropriate skill mix with higher levels of sickness absence. health Boards in Scotland took the decision sometime ago to lower the registered to non- registered staff ratios. Constant pressure from Scottish government to find more and more LRP (ie budgetary savings) resulted in inappropriate and dangerous staffing levels. Patient care is compromised, staff are overworked and demoralised and when mistakes occur, guess what? Yes, let's blame the nursing staff!
    I'm sure NHS staff would appreciate access to affordable gyms and onsite healthy food. However, the reality is they will never have time to use these facilities or take advantage of this initiative until staffing levels are increased! It's all smoke and mirrors by NHS management.
    I'm not an NHS employee, simply a VERY concerned citizen. I have seen first hand over very many weeks in an NHS hospital, just how overworked nurses are. My loved one died a harrowing and painful death due to low staffing levels/skill mix. I cried for my father and for the horrendously stressed staff.
    I will keep campaigning for safe staffing levels. Things need to change NOW.

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  • I see nothing in the article that indicates staff are expected to utilize these classes in their breaks so the argument that staffing has to be increased in order to allow them to attend does not hold water. NHS sickness is the highest in the country and it is mostly due to repeated, short term nurse absence. I absolutely believe that anyone who is too ill to work should not work, however we have all seen nurses go off duty in the evening as fit as fleas and call in sick the next day due to a vague collection of symptoms that seem to have developed overnight. This is opposed to Dr's who work equally hard and long hours but who rarely take sick leave.
    Nurses complain about being overlooked time and again but when something is offered to improve their quality of life, they continue to complain.

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