NHS bodies in Wales prioritised staff wellbeing during the pandemic, but longer-term challenges remain
All NHS bodies enhanced their staff wellbeing offer during the pandemic but now need to ensure ongoing support is provided and made easily accessible for all.
NHS staff have shown tremendous resilience and dedication throughout the pandemic, despite facing huge strains to their mental and physical health. At the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, NHS bodies moved quickly to enhance their wellbeing initiatives to support staff through these unprecedented times. However, the longer-term impacts of the pandemic on staff wellbeing cannot be ignored.
Prior to the pandemic, staff wellbeing was already a big challenge for the NHS and the crisis has only highlighted the importance of supporting staff’s mental and physical health. As the pandemic unfolded, NHS bodies in Wales implemented measures to improve staff wellbeing, such as creating dedicated rest spaces, increasing mental health and psychological provision, and enhancing infection and prevention control measures. However, NHS bodies now need to do more to ensure NHS staff know how to access support that suits their particular needs.
Our report also looked at how NHS bodies in Wales protected staff at higher risk from COVID-19. Amongst other safeguarding initiatives, all bodies introduced the All-Wales COVID-19 Workforce Risk Assessment Tool. The risk assessment tool identifies those at a higher risk and allows for additional measures to be put in place to ensure staff are adequately protected. Although NHS bodies promoted and encouraged staff to complete the assessment tool, completion rates varied amongst the different bodies.
The COVID-19 pandemic has undeniably had an impact on staff wellbeing. Surveys and research carried out by professional bodies highlight the increased stress and burnout experienced by staff. With a more emotionally and physically exhausted NHS workforce than ever, NHS bodies in Wales must maintain a focus on staff wellbeing to navigate through the longer-term impacts of the crisis.
There is also an opportunity for bodies to redesign their approach to staff wellbeing in order to ensure they are able to continue to provide high-quality, effective, and efficient health and care services. Our report is accompanied by a checklist which sets out some of the questions NHS Board members should be asking to ensure their health bodies have good arrangements in place to support staff wellbeing.
Some of the recommendations made in our report focus on:
- Continuing to make staff wellbeing a priority
- Evaluating the effectiveness and impact of the staff wellbeing offer
- Evaluating the All-Wales COVID-19 Workforce Risk Assessment Tool
The resilience and dedication shown by NHS staff at all levels in the face of the unprecedented challenges and pressures presented by the pandemic has been truly remarkable. It is inevitable, however, that this will have taken a considerable toll on the wellbeing of NHS staff, who now also face the challenges of dealing with the pent-up demand in the system caused by COVID-19.
It is assuring to see that NHS bodies have maintained a clear focus on staff wellbeing throughout the pandemic and have implemented a wide range of measures to support the physical health and mental wellbeing of their staff during the crisis. It is vital that these activities are built upon and that staff wellbeing remains a central priority for NHS bodies as they deal with the combined challenges of recovering services, continuing to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic, and also managing seasonal pressures which are expected to be greater this winter than they were last year. Taking care of those who care for others is probably more important now than it has ever been before.
This report is the second of two publications which highlight COVID-19 related themes from our Structured Assessment work at NHS bodies, identifying future opportunities and sharing learning. Read our first report – Doing it differently, doing it right?