NHS employers are to have access to a national £600m funding pot from April, under a scheme to improve the health and wellbeing of nurses and other staff, and ensure the service “practises what it preaches”.
The funding from NHS England will be available in 2016-17 to trusts that introduce initiatives such as offering mental health support, physical activities, and physiotherapy services for frontline workers.
“The NHS needs to practise what it preaches by offering better support for the health and wellbeing of our own 1.3 million staff”
In addition, money will be given to NHS organisations that take steps to reduce junk food and obesity in the workplace.
This will require them to remove adverts, price promotions and checkout displays of sugary drinks and high fat sugar and salt food from their premises.
They will also have to submit information on their fast food franchise, vending machine and retail outlet contracts in preparation for the proposed NHS 20% “sugar tax” expected to be introduced from April 2017.
Increases in the uptake of the winter flu vaccine by staff to help reduce sickness absence will also be required to gain access to the funding pot.
NHS England said it aimed to improve staff vaccination rates from around 50% to “nearer to 75%”.
Public Health England estimated the cost to the NHS from staff absence due to poor health was around £2.4bn a year.
Meanwhile, figures showed almost 25% of adults in England are obese, with treatment for the condition costing the health service an estimated £5.1bn every year.
Simon Stevens, chief executive of NHS England, said: “As the largest employer in Europe, the NHS needs to practise what it preaches by offering better support for the health and wellbeing of our own 1.3 million staff.
“A good place to start is by tackling the sources of staff sickness absence including mental health and musculoskeletal injuries, while doing our bit to end the nation’s obesity epidemic by ditching junk food and sugary drinks in place of tasty, healthy and affordable alternatives.”
“If we can do this well, we hope that more parts of the public and private sector will see the sense of it and also take the plunge,” he added.
Commenting on the funding announcement, the Royal College of Nursing said it was a “positive” move that ”recognises improving staff health can deliver better care for patients”.
Janet Davies, chief executive and general secretary of the RCN, said: “There are many work-related factors which mean hard-working healthcare staff often find it difficult to look after their own health so it’s right that employers should be taking the responsibility for supporting staff to make healthier choices.”
“It’s right that employers should be taking the responsibility for supporting staff to make healthier choices”
However, she said it must be accompanied by improved access to flexibe working and action to tackle the stress caused by a lack of staff.
Unison’s head of health Christina McAnea echoed her comments, noting the initiative would make a difference for those who were able to use the services, but not for staff that had no time to access them.
“Health workers are constantly under pressure. Encouraging active lifestyles and providing access to healthy food at work will help them, and result in better care for patients,” she said.
She also said it was “about time” staff were able to receive support at work for mental and phsyical health issues.