Nurses will be able to access health checks and excercise classes through a new health and wellbeing initiative for NHS staff launched by NHS England chief executive Simon Stevens.
The £5 million initiative, announced today at the NHS Innovation Expo in Manchester, will focus on promoting physical activity, improving diets, and reducing stress for the NHS' workforce. The initiative will provide health checks for musculosketal and mental health issues, as these are the two biggest causes of absence for NHS workers.
Mr Stevens said: '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.'
The initiative, which will be carried out in partnership with NHS Employers and PHE, will aim to provide a specific capacity for various treatments for staff. These include physiotherapy, talking therapies, smoking cessation, and weight management services. It will also establish localised 'physical activity offers' for staff, which will set up exercise programmes such as yoga classes, competitive sports teams and Cycle to Work schemes.
Janet Davies, chief executive of the Royal College of Nursing, said: 'Staff are the NHS's greatest asset, and Simon Stevens is right – it is high time that they had better support in staying healthy. Nursing in particular is stressful, often physically demanding work, and it takes its toll. Long, irregular shifts also have a profound impact on the human body, effects which we are only now beginning to understand. Many of the steps being proposed are very welcome, such as offering healthy food and health checks for older staff.'
The initiative is designed to take forward the commitment laid out in NHS England's Five Year Forward View 'to ensure the NHS as an employer sets a national example in the support it offers its own staff to stay healthy'.
Sue Covill, director of development and employment at NHS Employers, said: 'The biggest annual survey of NHS staff showed managers are doing more to support workforce health and well-being. There are over 50 per cent more programmes supporting staff health and wellbeing now compared to 2010. NHS staff are now more confident than ever in reporting stress and mental health problems. We cannot be complacent. As demand on the NHS grows, efforts to improve the health and well-being of staff are very important, not only for staff but also to improve patient outcomes.'
PHE estimates that the cost of staff absence due to ill-health in the NHS is approximately £2.4 billion each year, or roughly £1 in every 40 spent by the NHS.