The NHS in England is step up its efforts to improve the health of its 1.3 million staff by offering financial incentives to support their heath and provide them with healthy food options.
Simon Stevens, the Chief Executive of NHS England, said he hoped that more employers from public and private sectors would follow the health service example.
From April, hospitals and other providers of NHS care will for the first time be funded to improve the support they offer to frontline health staff to stay healthy. They will be able to earn their share of a national incentive fund worth £450m in 2016/17 if they:
- offer frontline nurses, therapists, doctors, care assistants and other staff access to workplace physio, mental health support, and healthy workplace options. The annual NHS staff survey will track the increase in NHS staff saying that their trust is taking positive action to support their health and wellbeing, and reduce work related stress and back injuries.
- take action on junk food and obesity by ensuring that healthy food options are available for their staff and visitors, including those working night shifts. To qualify for the scheme, trusts will need to remove adverts, price promotions and checkout displays of sugary drinks and high fat sugar and salt food from their NHS premises. They will also be required to submit information on their current fast food franchises, vending machines and retail outlets in preparation for the NHS ‘sugar tax’.
- increase the uptake of the winter flu vaccine for their staff so as to reduce sickness absence and protect vulnerable patients from infection. The aim is to increase staff vaccination rates from around 50% to nearer to 75%.
Estimates from Public Health England put the cost to the NHS of staff absence due to poor health at £2.4bn a year – around £1 in every £40 of the total budget. Almost 25% of adults in England are obese, with significant numbers also being overweight. Treating obesity and its consequences alone costs the NHS an estimated £5.1bn every year.
Simon Stevens, Chief Executive of NHS England, says: “As the largest employer in Europe, the NHS needs to practice 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.”
A key part of improving health and wellbeing for staff is giving them the opportunity to access schemes that promote physical activity, provide them with mental health support and rapid access to physiotherapy where required. Under this new programme, hospitals, ambulance trusts, community and mental health providers and others will be funded to support them:
- Introducing a range of physical activity schemes for staff. Providers would be expected to offer physical activity schemes with an emphasis on promoting active travel, building physical activity into working hours and reducing sedentary behaviour. They could also introduce physical activity sessions for staff which could include a range of physical activities such as; team sports, fitness classes, running clubs and team challenges.
- Improving access to physiotherapy services for staff. A fast track physiotherapy service for staff suffering from musculoskeletal (MSK) issues to ensure staff who are referred via GPs or Occupational Therapists can access it in a timely manner without delay; and
- Introducing a range of mental health initiatives for staff. Providers would be expected to offer support to staff such as, but not restricted to; stress management courses, line management training, mindfulness courses, counselling services including sleep counselling and mental health first aid training.