Trusts are failing to protect the mental health of nurses and other key staff, according to research that shows many do not have a mental wellbeing policy in place.
A study by the Health and Work Development Unit at the Royal College of Physicians found just 57% of health service trusts in England had a functioning mental wellbeing policy to support employees.
This is despite mounting evidence that the physical and emotional health of staff is crucial to patient welfare and the fact mental health issues are one of the biggest causes of long-term sickness absence among NHS workers.
The report also found less than a quarter of trusts – 24% – were monitoring the mental wellbeing of staff.
The findings were greeted with dismay by nursing leaders and other healthcare bodies.
Peter Carter, general secretary and chief executive of the Royal College of Nursing, said: “These are disappointing figures and we are greatly concerned by the implications for patient care as well as the welfare of nursing staff.”
The findings follow a recent RCN report that found more than half of nurses had been made unwell by stress in the past year.
The Faculty of Public Health said it was in the interests of employers to have effective health policies for staff, especially around mental wellbeing.
Professor Sarah Stewart-Brown, co-chair of the faculty’s mental health committee, said: “Without mental wellbeing it is difficult to have the compassionate and caring professionals the NHS needs.”
Nearly three quarters of NHS trusts took part in the audit, which looked at how well they were doing when it came to implementing official public health guidance for workplaces.
The research, carried out last summer, found only 28% of trusts had a plan to tackle staff obesity. While 76% of organisations offered healthy food in their restaurants, only 27% made similar healthy options available to nursing staff and others on night shifts.
However, the study revealed an overall improvement since a similar audit in 2010. Previously less than half of trusts – 48% – had a mental wellbeing policy while the proportion with obesity plans had more than doubled from 13% to 28%.
Dean Royles, chief executive of NHS Employers, said: “At least 300,000 more staff are covered by comprehensive policies compared to three years ago and sick leave has fallen over the same period among nurses and other major staff groups.”
However, he agreed “across-the-board improvements” were needed.
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