Winter workforce preparedness

Key actions: winter workforce preparedness

Supporting the health and wellbeing of our workforce is critically important at any time.  Looking after our people enables them to provide the best care for patients.

We know there has been, and continues to be, a significant focus in organisations on looking after our people, within a context of staff vacancies, increased patient needs and the impact of the last few years on staff wellbeing. Given the additional operational pressures the NHS faces during winter, and recognising the vital importance of continuing to grow the workforce to meet demand, this document summarises some of the most important wellbeing support and interventions available as we approach winter.

There are strong moral, legal and performance drivers supporting the case for preventive, organisationally-led, interventions.  Learning from the global pandemic, the World Health Organisation has established a clear link between staff safety and wellbeing and patient safety through its Health Worker Safety Charter.

Health and wellbeing provision should start with ensuring that minimum standards and all basic welfare needs are met. Provisions for health and wellbeing support should be available for the whole workforce, including bank, agency and locum staff.

Organisations, leaders and managers are already doing a lot locally to ensure that their staff and colleagues are well supported.  This guidance builds on that and references national resources which are available.

1. Leadership, and engagement and the role of wellbeing guardians

Almost all NHS Trusts have appointed a board-level Wellbeing Guardian and Integrated Care Boards are beginning to adopt the role. Wellbeing Guardians help prioritise employee health and wellbeing and provide assurance and oversight of the systematic delivery of a preventive approach, recognising the link between health and wellbeing, attendance, retention, and high-quality patient care.

Leaders should ensure that staff wellbeing is strategically aligned with elective recovery plans, including workforce demand and capacity planning and that shift rostering patterns take account of best practice on safe working and caring and provide flexibility to take account of constraints and other responsibilities staff may have.

Health and wellbeing leaders should embed continuous improvement approaches into their strategy, to keep priorities and actions under review, build on what is working and be prepared to disinvest or stop actions which are no longer having impact.

A Wellbeing Guardian fulfils an important role during the winter as a visible senior champion for health and wellbeing, working with the senior leadership team and occupational health and wellbeing leaders to guide and oversee employee-led improvements and supporting local initiatives, and to track progress drawing on the various data sources available.

Support for leaders and wellbeing guardians can be found here:

2. Prioritise health and wellbeing conversations and opportunities for peer support

Ensure all staff have access to health and wellbeing conversations and encourage them to access support to address their needs and concerns.  Ideally these would be with their manager or a trusted colleague such as a Health and Wellbeing Champion, trade union representative, professional body or staff network representative.

Organisational policies and practices are likely to support regular wellbeing conversations already, so signpost to these and to any health and wellbeing conversation training that you have locally.

Be aware of the national guidance and support on conversations, which includes access to a free training programme that support line managers to hold safe and effective health and wellbeing conversations. This can be adapted and repeated locally through a ‘train the trainer’ approach.

You can direct staff to the national wellbeing resources, as well as local services such as Occupational Health and Employee Assistance Programmes (EAP). Financial wellbeing support is also available. It is also important that managers are aware of their own health and wellbeing and access support, including preventative support to address sources of stress in their role.

There is also guidance available for looking after your team, including signposting information to a wide range of resources.

Informal support between colleagues and peers is also important to protect the wellbeing of staff and teams. Managers should identify opportunities to provide time and safe spaces for team members to provide support for each other, including after difficult experiences. Staff should be encouraged to speak to colleagues if they have concerns about someone else.

3. Protect rest breaks and provide access to good quality rest areas

Rest breaks enable staff to take time away from work to pause and recover. Leaders and managers should ensure staff are able to take their appropriate rest break. Remind staff of the need to take breaks and promote your rest areas. Prioritise a culture of rest breaks being an important part of the team’s shift and role model by ensuring that leaders and managers take rest breaks too.

Check in with colleagues to ensure they have taken rest breaks throughout their shift.

Ensure staff are able to access the welfare provisions you have in place, such as access to water points, toilets and changing facilities, and areas to store and heat food. You should also consider if additional facilities are need, particularly for staff working night shifts. Provide suitable rest areas allow staff to recover during breaks, and which can also provide space for team and peer reflection and support.

Ensure colleagues are able, and are encouraged, to take their annual leave allowance. Consider flexible working arrangements for those staff that may benefit.

4. Share what is already available

Develop a communications plan to promote health and wellbeing through winter. Work with your local Health and Wellbeing Champions, local staff networks, trades unions and leaders across the organisation to regularly communicate local health and wellbeing priorities and the availability of support. Consider asking leaders and staff to talk about their own experience of accessing support and how this has helped.

You can signpost to:

Health and Wellbeing Champions should be knowledgeable about the range of local and national health and wellbeing support offers available and able to promote them and signpost their colleagues to them according to their particular needs. They can also provide leaders with important feedback and information on wellbeing issues affecting staff. Champions also have access to a national network and series of development events.

5. Invest in reflective practice and study leave

Reflective practice is a supportive way of helping staff analyse experiences and actions. Promote the offers you have in place, which might include Professional Nurse Advocates and Professional Midwifery Advocates.

The Looking After Your Team guide includes information on a range of resources including those that support creating a safe and inclusive space to talk about wellbeing.

Allow your team time out to reflect and discuss their experiences and to have time for team learning, ideally away from immediate clinical or working pressures. Ensure that those trained in reflective practice are provided protected time to use their training to support others. Encourage and support colleagues to take their study leave.

Access further help and guidance on professional nurse advocacy.

6. Support your occupational health and wellbeing service

Your Occupational Health and Wellbeing service and professionals are an important source of expert support, advice and insights to inform your approach to employee health and wellbeing. Work with your occupational health and wellbeing services and leads to create your organisationally-led, preventive, approach and develop a partnership that helps you create a sustainable health and wellbeing culture. Ensure that they have the support, resources and funding they need to deal with what is an increasing case load in most organisations.

The Health and Wellbeing Framework and suite of guidance will help you to create a local action plan. Visit: NHS Health and Wellbeing Framework.

The Growing Occupational Health and Wellbeing Together strategy provides a vision to support you in growing your occupational health and wellbeing services, professionals, and interventions to meet your local organisational needs; for any other support or questions, please contact

There are also guidelines available on how to support specific cohorts of staff, including those with Long Covid and menopause.

7. Supporting staff to stay safe from flu, COVID-19 and respiratory illness

Leaders and managers can take action to keep staff protected from respiratory illness, including flu and COVID-19.  Managers should support staff to take up of COVID-19 and flu vaccination. You can do this by:

  • Ensuring flexibility in accommodating vaccination appointment times
  • Addressing staff concerns, fostering open communication and providing accurate information
  • Leading by examples through sharing your vaccination experience with your team, to reinforce confidence in vaccines
  • Emphasising the importance of vaccination in protecting our staff, those we care for and the resilience of the NHS over winter

Ensure staff have access to appropriate PPE and that you and colleagues follow the latest guidance on Covid-19 testing.

Access additional guidance for the prevention and control of respiratory infections in health and care settings.