Wellbeing & Benefits

NHS workers are to be offered counselling, physiotherapy and Zumba classes as part of a new drive to cut sickness rates. Staff absences are estimated to cost the NHS some £2.4bn a year.

Under the measures, NHS organisations will be told to serve healthier food, promote exercise, reduce stress and provide regular health checks. Workers will also have access to support to stop smoking and weight-loss services.

Simon Stevens, NHS England’s chief executive, will detail the plans at the NHS Innovation Expo conference in Manchester.

Mr Stevens will say: “NHS staff have some of the most critical but demanding jobs in the country. When it comes to supporting the health of our own workforce, frankly the NHS needs to put its own house in order.

“At a time when arguably the biggest operational challenge facing hospitals is converting overspends on temporary agency staff into attractive flexible permanent posts, creating healthy and supportive workplaces is no longer a nice-to-have, it’s a must-do.

“And at a time when the pressures on GPs have never been greater, we need to extend the local practitioner health programmes that have been shown to help GPs stay healthy and get back to work when sick.”

The two biggest causes of sickness absence across the NHS – mental health and musculoskeletal problems – will be key focus points of the health checks to be made available.

The exercise drive will see organisations encouraged to promote fitness programmes, such as yoga or Zumba classes, team sports and offer discounts on bikes to encourage staff to cycle to work.

Mr Stevens will reference a 2009 study which found staff ill-health and absence can lead to an increased risk of unsafe care, worse patient experiences and poorer outcomes.

Christina McAnea, Unison’s head of health and chairwoman of the NHS Social Partnership Forum, said: “The health and well-being of NHS staff at work has a direct impact on patients and this initiative rightly starts recognising that.

“Addressing physical and mental health issues is important and a step in the right direction as it will help tackle some of the major causes of stress at work. NHS staff experience some of the highest levels of stress and violence in the country and this can no longer be tolerated.”

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