NHS organisations are ignoring their own nurses’ health and wellbeing by failing to provide proper breaks and neglecting the needs of those who work anti social hours, a survey by Nursing Times has revealed.
Results from the survey of 650 nurses, carried out last week, coincide with a government pledge to save “up to” £555m a year by reducing staff sickness absence in the NHS.Yet 79 per cent of respondents to the survey said their trust did not currently give enough priority to nurse health and well-being.
In January last year the NHS constitution introduced a pledge that the NHS would “provide support and opportunities for staff to maintain their health, well-being and safety”.
This was followed in November by Steve Boorman’s report on health and wellbeing in the NHS, which set out a raft of minimum requirements that trusts should follow on the issue such as offering healthy food, smoking cessation support and promoting exercise.
But over a third of survey respondents said their NHS employer did not provide healthy food choices in its restaurants. Even where they did, respondents said it was “impossible” to get those healthy foods, as nurse shift patterns and irregular or missed breaks meant they could not get to the canteen in time. Many said their lunch consisted of snatched moments to eat snacks brought in from home.
The Boorman report also said the NHS should be an “exemplar employer” to the rest of the UK in ensuring the health and wellbeing of its staff, highlighting the leadership role of managers. But 74 per cent of our survey respondents said they felt their director of nursing was not a good role model for a healthy life style.
The survey results suggest the problem is particularly acute for nurses, as opposed to other NHS staff. While 14 per cent of respondents said their trust did arrange exercise classes or similar activities to help staff keep active, many of those said the timings did not fit in with nurse or midwife shift patterns. A common complaint was that activities were laid on at lunch times or around 5pm – which made them accessible to office staff, but not to nurses.
Five months since the publication of Dr Boorman’s report, the vast majority of our survey respondents said they were not aware of their organisation having a health and well being strategy and only 7 per cent said staff health and well being was included in the induction training of new staff.
NHS lead for the Association of Occupational Health Nurses Kate Kyne insisted the NHS was making steady progress to improve things like access to back care advice and healthier foods but she admitted it was not given sufficient priority at board level.
She said: “It’s been left to occupational health to really champion and take forward. Sometimes that is a real battle, especially when the board has so many other high priorities.”
She added that in many organisations “staff wellbeing is almost secondary to patient care, and if it doesn’t have a good champion, then it is hard”.
The Boorman report said it was “essential” that all NHS trusts put their staff health “at the heart of their work” and appoint a clearly identifiable board level champion for driving home its importance. But although accepted by health secretary Andy Burnham, that recommendation was not set as an explicit requirement in the 2010-11 NHS operating framework.
Ms Kyne said in most organisations responsibility for occupational health services sat beneath the human resources department but it would be helpful if it were moved instead to be part of the director of nursing’s remit. That would help those directly line managing nurses see the value of improved staff wellbeing, she said.
She said that while workplace campaigns such as “cycle to work” had their place, one of the most important changes organisations could make for nursing staff would be to facilitate routine break times.
A spokeswoman for the Department of Health said: “The NHS operating framework for 2010-11 made staff health and wellbeing a priority but tasked each NHS organisation to set its own target and delivery plan. This work is in hand but plans and timescales have not yet been finalised.”