Why the wellbeing guardian function is important and how it can make a positive impact

Wider NHS context of the wellbeing guardian function

The NHS people plan and NHS people promise both include the key commitment that we are inclusively looking after all our NHS people, to ensure that they are safe and healthy. Evidence unanimously supports that by caring for our people this delivers significantly improved patient experience and outcomes (NHS health and wellbeing framework, 2021).

The NHS Growing occupational health and wellbeing together strategy identifies the importance of having health and wellbeing as a strategic voice at senior leadership level. This will ensure that all organisational decisions consider not only the impact on performance, care quality and value, but also the health and wellbeing of employees delivering these decisions.

How the wellbeing guardian function can make a positive impact

The wellbeing guardian is an assurance function to act as the organisation’s strategic voice for employee health and wellbeing. It is not an operational ‘doing’ role and does not replace the responsibility which leaders of an organisation still retain to provide health and wellbeing to our NHS people.

The wellbeing guardian’s impact is best placed by ensuring the organisational senior leadership team are prioritising employee health and wellbeing as a routine consideration in all organisation-wide activities and decisions. This will ensure that organisations are creating a culture of wellbeing, are caring for their people, and are proactively creating a ‘best place to work’ environment for all our NHS people.

Personal reflections on the importance and potential for impact

We have a variety of reflections from existing wellbeing guardians, sharing their personal stories of why they believe the function is important and the potential for impact.   

“Our staff are so important to us and are our most valuable commodity in the NHS. I think the role of having a wellbeing guardian in all healthcare organisations is really important. It’s about having someone who is very much helping the assurance process of wellbeing activities. For me as a non-executive, I sit on the board and I see my role as a wellbeing guardian as promoting, championing and supporting any activities which are around wellbeing …It’s an assurance role, making sure that in board meetings we are talking about how we are planning to support the recovery of our staff; we can’t just talk about the patients because if we don’t plan for supporting the recovery of our staff we won’t have staff to take care of our patients. I’m really pleased to be a wellbeing guardian, it’s important that every organisation has someone who is championing this cause for staff, to do the reminders and ask the awkward questions at an assurance level to make sure we are doing what is needed”. Mark Sanderson, non-executive director – North West Anglia NHS Foundation Trust

“I think it’s important to have a dedicated person on the board as a wellbeing guardian; it’s quite easy for us to say health and wellbeing is everybody’s responsibility but I think unless you’ve got a dedicated person, you’re not going to have the same degree of focus and attention which that brings. It’s also important to signal to the people in the organisation that we take this agenda really seriously because our people are so important. We couldn’t do what we do unless we looked after them and ensured their resilience. Having that dedicated presence on the board where health and wellbeing is talked through and recognised in a really important way”. Lena Samuels, Chair South Central Ambulance Service and Hampshire Isle of Wight Integrated Care Service

As a wellbeing guardian, you can make a real difference in your organisation, placing staff health and wellbeing at the heart of what we do. You will be in an ideal position to seek assurance, challenge and hold to account your senior leaders, creating a culture of health and wellbeing where the organisation cares for its people, who care for others.