Returning to work after being diagnosed with bipolar disorder has shown Vincent Tremayne the importance of employers paying attention to staff wellbeing
The Boorman report, which investigated the benefits of improving the health and welfare of NHS staff, suggested that some of us still do not believe that our employers take this issue seriously (Department of Health, 2009). It might seem unsurprising, but those employers who take an interest seem to perform better. From my own experiences, I can see why.
Some time ago I was admitted to hospital after trying to end my life. A few months on and in a new town, I took an acute staff nurse position at an NHS trust. It was soon clear that I was not staying “well” and while on sick leave I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder.
Once I had been prescribed effective medication I was keen to return to work, but needed a job I could do safely. I started work in an outpatient department with daytime hours, which enabled me to avoid the pressure of an acute ward. After working in outpatients for more than a year I wanted to restart my career in acute care, but was not convinced that an acute trust would give a nurse with mental illness a senior nursing position.
‘Stories from today’s nurses show they do not always receive enough support for their illness or disability’
I applied for a nurse adviser position with NHS Direct. I was honest about my condition during the application process, and was offered the job. My mental illness was taken into account to ensure the job was suitable, but ultimately I was appointed because of my skills and experience. NHS Direct was confident it could provide the support I might need, as it does with all its staff.
In 1948 the NHS was tasked with providing a comprehensive service to improve people’s physical and mental health. Of all the UK’s employers, it should be well placed to remember these principles to ensure it looks after its own staff.
While the NHS on the whole provides a pension scheme, annual leave linked to length of service and part or full time hours, some trusts can offer more. NHS Direct offers its nurses a fixed pattern of shifts that are known months in advance and a physically easier role in a modern working environment. Staff are provided with height adjustable desks, chairs and monitors so they can sit or stand during a call and breaks are timetabled and not missed.
Add in a confidential helpline and a friendly occupational health service and this support has enabled me to resume my career without detrimental effects on my health. With regular shift patterns to choose from, I can plan my life, enabling me to organise psychiatrist appointments or just a day out. Just as importantly, I can concentrate on individual callers’ needs, ensuring they get the most appropriate advice and care, rather than trying to make sense of an entire ward. All these factors contribute to reducing stress.
Employers are required to make “reasonable adjustments” for disabled people, but with the right approach towards staff and the right environment they can provide much more. Years before the Boorman report looked at improving staff health and welfare, NHS Direct have worked to do this.
Since the inception of the NHS much has changed in medical technology and the intricacies of nursing care. Unfortunately, stories from today’s nurses show they do not always receive enough support for their illness or disability so they can nurse better.
Let us hope that other NHS employers recognise the wisdom of looking after their staff so they can care for others. This not only protects employees’ health and wellbeing, but also benefits organisations in improving staff morale and therefore helping them to recruit and retain skilled and committed staff.
VINCENT TREMAYNE is nurse adviser, NHS Direct
Department of Health (2009) NHS Health and Well-being. Final Report. London: DH.