The nation has relied heavily on NHS healthcare workers during the Covid-19 pandemic and an effective workforce requires good mental health. However, robust evidence is still lacking on the size and impact of the pandemic on healthcare workers, who is at risk, and what support they may require, if any. This study is investigating the psychosocial and occupational outcomes of the pandemic on NHS staff in England, using a well-defined sampling frame across 18 partner NHS Trusts. The research is also exploring the extent to which different types of intervention and support programmes have been offered to staff and their effectiveness.
The NHS CHECK study is led by Professor Sir Simon Wessely and is a large collaborative project across a number of institutions and NHS trusts.
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Supporting the mental health of NHS staff as part of post-pandemic recovery
As further findings from the study became available, including from diagnostic interviews and on perceptions of support provision, we convened a second Policy Lab in December 2021. This brought together similar groups to the first Lab and considered questions around the current needs of staff, the use and effectiveness of available support, the likely future need and implications for effective future provision.
Participants in the Policy Lab suggested and discussed a wide range of actions that could be taken by various stakeholders in different parts of the system. Some of these actions can be implemented most effectively at a national or system level, some in individual organisations and others by managers, teams and individuals. Spanning across these levels are three key principles:
- Getting the basics right: This refers to the many practical things that serve to keep people well and prevent or mitigate harm in pressured situations – including, for example, appropriate staffing levels, breaks, nutrition and safety measures.
- Creating the right culture: The importance of a strong, supportive and compassionate culture throughout the NHS was raised repeatedly during the Policy Lab as being critical to staff wellbeing.
- Learning and planning: Effective learning and planning allows experience and good practice to be shared, encourages accountability for staff wellbeing and facilitates effective workforce planning.
Read the full paper here and the summary briefing paper here.
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Effective use of early findings from NHS CHECK to support NHS staff
To explore the practical implications of the project’s early findings, we convened an initial Policy Lab in March 2021, bringing together researchers, NHS staff, professional bodies and policymakers. Participants emphasised the need to focus on staff recovery alongside service recovery in the coming months and years, highlighted the value of informal, local interventions in supporting the workforce and drew attention to the importance of leadership at all levels in creating a supportive working culture.
- Results from the study so far suggest substantial mental health challenges for many NHS staff during the pandemic.
- Given the potential pressure associated with major organisational change across the NHS, our results show it will be important to support staff recovery alongside service recovery.
- Different groups of staff may be affected by the pandemic in different ways, and there may also be differences in their ability to access support.
- Leadership – at all levels but especially by those in frontline supervisor roles – has an important impact on staff mental health and in creating a supportive working culture within the NHS.
- Particularly effective interventions are often informal, easy to access, and draw on the potential of teams (rather than mental health professionals) as key sources of support and involve clear and consistent communication. Implementation of these interventions should be tailored to the needs of local staff.