` Valerie Hill on addressing staff wellbeing challenges as the pandemic hits the NHS | Reward and Employee Benefits Association (REBA)
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11 Aug 2021
by Valerie Hill

Valerie Hill on addressing staff wellbeing challenges as the pandemic hits the NHS

Like many NHS trusts, West Hertfordshire Hospitals NHS Trust has had an unprecedented 18 months. Our staff, both clinical and non-clinical – on the frontline and beyond – have been battling against a virus in a pandemic we have never seen the likes of before in our lifetime.

 

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As an acute trust with three hospitals, including an emergency department and Intensive Care Unit, our 5,500 thousand staff have been under immense stress, as they worked and continue to work in response to the Covid pandemic.

The trauma and pressure of the pandemic has meant that our staff have faced challenges that have affected their wellbeing and mental health. Staff have lost patients, friends and colleagues to Covid. The need for wellbeing support has never been more important.

Improving NHS staff wellbeing in the pandemic

In response to the pressure on workforce, the wellbeing team ramped up their services to enhance the provisions for staff care. Aided by the hospitals’ charity and the pastoral care service, the teams have been working tirelessly throughout the pandemic. They have come together to support staff across the organisation, aiding staff emotional, spiritual and mental wellbeing.

During the first wave, the wellbeing team worked together with the hospitals’ charity. The charity was overwhelmed with goods and services from the public, all wanting to support their NHS heroes. The wellbeing team coordinated the flood of donations that came in, creating and distributing care packages to staff.  

As the pandemic hit, our staff’s need for support increased – it was clear that wellbeing and pastoral care was instrumental in supporting the welfare of our workforce. 

During the early part of the pandemic, we sadly lost several colleagues to Covid. As part of the organisation’s wellbeing response, our pastoral care service did what they do best and provided spiritual and pastoral support, including bereavement support for our staff. They provided and continue to provide a 24/7 on-call service, as well as counselling and emotional support to staff, patients and their families across the organisation.

In addition to providing pastoral support and caring for the emotional wellbeing of staff, the hospitals’ trust was keen to ensure that staff had dedicated spaces for reflection. The hospitals’ charity made this possible, funding memorial spaces at the three hospital sites.

Coming out of the second wave, staff morale was at an all-time low. To continue the enrichment of staff welfare, the wellbeing team arranged ‘WellFest’ – a week dedicated to raising awareness and providing education around the five pillars of wellness (hydration, nutrition, physical, mental and sleep). This week included webinars, health kiosks, fitness and relaxation classes, and education around wellbeing.

Andrew McMenemy, the chief people officer, identified that the main hospital site is very built up and there were very few outdoor recreation areas. McMenemy’s vision of providing enhanced outdoor spaces to positively impact staff wellbeing was made possible through donations to the hospitals’ charity Covid appeal, and a significant grant from NHS Charities Together.

The charity provided a tranquil garden terrace co-located with the restaurant which has created a positive impact on staff wellbeing. The terrace area has enabled a space of sanctuary replicating the experience provided by our kind neighbours at Watford Football Club during the first wave.

To further enhance staff welfare, the wellbeing team carried out an audit of staff rooms on all of the Trust’s sites, to identify which staff rooms would benefit most from refurbishment, extra comforts and enhancements. Funding from the hospitals’ charity, is making enhanced spaces for staff rest, respite and relaxation a reality.

The difference wellbeing support has made to the hospitals’ staff

The collaborative working of pastoral care service, the trust’s charity and the wellbeing team in the provision of staff support has improved staff welfare dramatically. The physical spaces provided have made a huge difference, creating a positive area for staff to relax and recuperate away from busy wards and offices.

McMenemy, said: “I am so proud of each and every staff member across the organisation for the way they have gone above and beyond throughout what has been the most difficult 18 months in the history of the NHS.

“It has been an absolute pleasure to see multiple teams come together to ensure patient and staff wellbeing has been at the forefront of our battle against Covid.”

The author is Valerie Hill, communications coordinator at West Hertfordshire Hospitals NHS Trust.

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