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Physiotherapy and counselling for NHS staff in drive to cut sickness rates

Published 02/09/2015

The checks will focus on mental health and musculoskeletal problems
The checks will focus on mental health and musculoskeletal problems

NHS staff are to be offered physiotherapy, counselling and Zumba classes as part of a drive to cut absence rates.

Simon Stevens, NHS England's chief executive, will say creating healthy workplaces is "no longer a nice-to-have, it's a must-do".

He will use a speech to announce a raft of measures aimed at cutting the NHS bill for staff sickness, which stands at £2.4 billion a year.

The drive, backed by £5 million of funding, will target 1.3 million workers and includes an occupational health service for GPs suffering from burnout and stress.

Speaking at the NHS Innovation Expo conference in Manchester, Mr Stevens will say NHS organisations must serve healthier food, promote exercise, reduce stress and provide regular health checks.

The checks will focus on mental health and musculoskeletal problems - the two biggest causes of sickness absence across the NHS.

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.

"Equally, it's time for PFI (private finance initiative) contractors and catering firms to 'smell the coffee' - ditch junk food from hospitals and serve up affordable and healthy options instead."

Staff will be able to undergo regular NHS health checks at work to make them more accessible, while workers will have access to physiotherapy, mental health talking therapies, help to stop smoking and weight-loss services.

Healthy food options will be promoted in all restaurants, cafes and vending machines following meetings between NHS England and catering contractors.

Catering firms will be urged to publish nutritional information and keep to "appropriate" portion sizes.

Organisations will establish and promote exercise programmes, such as local yoga or Zumba classes, team sports and discounts on buying bikes for cycling to work.

The push will be led by a director at board level in each organisation, with training for managers to support staff.

There will also be an increased focus on creating "a positive working environment" to tackle bullying and discrimination.

In a bid to retain GPs, who often cite stress as a reason for leaving the NHS, specialist services will be developed from next year.

These will build on regional programmes, such as the London Practitioner Health Programme, which has treated more than 1,600 doctors with addiction and mental health problems.

Mr Stevens will use his speech to quote from a 2009 review by D r Steve Boorman, which found that staff ill-health and absence is linked to an increased risk of unsafe care, worse experiences for patients 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."

Duncan Selbie, chief executive of Public Health England, said: "The positive steps the NHS is taking to systematically improve the health and wellbeing of its workforce, including better access to occupational health, encouraging more physical activity and healthier food options, will have trickle-down benefits for the health and wellbeing of the wider population.

"The money saved on reducing staff sickness can be spent on services for the public and the healthier habits picked up by public sector employees can be passed on to the people they serve."

Dr Maureen Baker, chairwoman of the Royal College of GPs, said: "Fatigue, stress and eventually burnout among family doctors is increasing, to the detriment of their own health, and this could have a devastating impact on the care that our patients receive.

"Better access for GPs to occupational health services is a positive step forward - one that the c ollege has called for - and one that we will be pleased to work with NHS England and others to develop as a priority.

"It truly is a case of healthier doctors providing safer patient care and being better for patients."

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