Trusts have been advised on steps they can take to look after staff mental wellbeing and address welfare issues including fatigue in a raft of new guidance to help NHS employers cope with the Covid-19 crisis.
The suite of guidance launched by NHS Employers also includes advice on measures NHS organisations in England can take to ensure they have enough staff including enabling substantive and bank staff to move between trusts.
“Experiencing an outbreak can be very unsettling”
The guidance, which has been developed with input from trade unions, stressed that preserving and protecting the health, safety and wellbeing of staff is “critical” for NHS organisations as they respond to the Covid-19 outbreak.
“As the pressure on the NHS continues, it becomes even more important that strategies to support staff delivering care are put in place,” the guidance stated.
Amid concerns about a lack of personal protection equipment (PPE) it said organisations should review their supplies and ensure they had a clear process in place to enable staff to raise concerns about PPE.
As well as ensuring staff were physically protected from falling ill, the guidance emphasised the need to support mental wellbeing.
“Experiencing an outbreak can be very unsettling and have a real negative impact on an individual’s mental health,” said the document.
It said that maintaining staff morale and motivation “will be essential as the outbreak progresses”.
“Experience from previous outbreaks suggests that ongoing support to tackle staff fears will be vital,” said the guidance.
“Clear communication from trusted sources, honesty and open discussion of fears have been shown to be the most effective methods of sustaining morale,” it added.
Organisations may want to gear up chaplains and counselling services, “as they will have a key role in supporting staff”, the document said.
Other measures to support staff wellbeing include ensuring staff were able to stay hydrated and had 24-hour access to food.
The guidance warned of the need to prevent fatigue – and associated risks – and ensure staff could take regular breaks. This could include turning office space into rest areas, it stated.
“Employers will be trying to recruit from the same pools of people”
The guidance also made it clear staff would need ongoing support in the long-term – when the worst of the pandemic was over.
“Evidence shows that some staff may need additional support months and/or years after a particularly traumatic or stressful event,” said the guidance.
“Individuals will need a variety of different approaches to support their particular circumstances, which may vary from individual to individual,” it added.
When it comes to communicating with staff the guidance said HR, leadership and communications teams must work closely together to ensure “timely, consistent, open and honest communications”.
“Leaders should be visible to staff, whether face to face or virtually, to relay key national, regional and local messages and actively listen and respond to staff concerns, questions and rumours,” said the document.
The guidance also included advice on filling rota gaps including bringing back retired staff and making use of agency and bank staff, medical and nursing students, military reserves and volunteers.
Crucially, it said NHS organisations needed to work together to ensure they were not fighting over much-needed workforce.
“Employers will be trying to recruit from the same pools of people, so it’s important to work with other employers, commissioners and social care colleagues to ensure that a joint approach is taken that ensures the system as a whole is resourced, in order to prevent shortages in one area that impact across a whole place,” said the document.
It also confirmed new measures were on the way to enable staff to go and work at different NHS organisations where they were most needed.
In the coming weeks it said NHS England, NHS Improvement and NHSX would be trialling a “temporary digital staff passport”, which could be stored on an employee’s smartphone to enable organisations to share staff quickly and easily.