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HSE highlights links between staff wellbeing and safety outcomes in new report

By freelance writer Eleanore Robinson
There are “strong links” between staff wellbeing in healthcare settings and safety outcomes, a report by the Health and Safety Investigation Branch (HSIB) has found.

HSIB’s third bulletin concerning the harm caused by delays in transferring patients to the right place of care concluded: “While staff are trying their very best to ensure safe care, harm is happening, and this is affecting patient outcomes and staff wellbeing.

“This further impacts the ability of staff to stay well at work.”

Staff told the HSIB that wellbeing is prioritised by healthcare organisations only when there is time to do so. Staff also said that their wellbeing was only considered fully when it had deteriorated beyond the point at which they could be supported by colleagues or their local professional health and wellbeing services.

The investigation heard that the opportunity to speak openly, confidentially and within the safety of a facilitated discussion was incredibly helpful and ‘cathartic’. This could take the form of protected time for staff to come together to talk about the emotional impact of their work.

Work-related illness in care
According to a recent Health and Safety Executive (HSE) survey, of the 1.8 million workers in Great Britain suffering a work-related illness, around a quarter were in human health and social work.

HSE said in its strategy for 2022-2023, that current trends show that work-related ill-health is increasing in Great Britain.

In detail it said that stress, depression, or anxiety were the most common causes of work-related ill health in Great Britain, and it called on wider industry and business to support improvements.

Chancellor Jeremy Hunt announced in his Budget last month a £400m plan to increase mental health and musculoskeletal resources and expand the Individual Placement and Support scheme.

He also pledged to bring forward two new consultations on how to improve the availability of occupational health services provided by employers and double the funding for the small company subsidy pilot. 

All employers, under section 2 of the Health and Safety at Work Act (1974), have a general duty of care to ensure the health, safety and welfare of all employees, and this includes employees’ mental health.

Wellbeing action
According to the Health & Safety Executive, there are six main areas that can lead to work-related stress if they are not managed properly. These are: demands, control, support, relationships, role and change. It adds that factors like skills and experience, age, or disability may all affect someone’s ability to cope.

It calls on employers to takes five steps based on risk assessment:

  • Have conversations
  • Recognise the signs and causes of stress
  • Respond to identified risks
  • Reflect on agreed actions
  • Make risk assessment routine.

“It needs to become the norm to talk about stress and how people are feeling and coping at work,” says the HSE.

Law firm Hill Dickinson recommends that, as a minimum, employers should ensure access to support is clearly signposted to employees.

However, to be in line with the recommendations of the HSIB report, these services should be accessible within a reasonable amount of time to avoid staff’s mental health and wellbeing deteriorating further due to “significant waiting lists”. The onus should not be on staff to have to seek support when they feel they really need it. “Due to high workloads and the ongoing pressure on the system, [this] can often be once mental health has deteriorated significantly,” the firm said.

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