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Header image for the current page Growing occupational health and wellbeing services in the NHS

Growing occupational health and wellbeing services in the NHS

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It is known that the health and wellbeing of our NHS people impacts on their ability to deliver high quality care to patients. It is therefore vital that all NHS staff have high quality Occupational Health and Wellbeing Services available to them so that they in turn can provide the best care for their patients.

In 2021, NHS England launched the Growing Occupational Health and Wellbeing programme to empower NHS Occupational Health and Wellbeing Services to become integrated, strategic and proactive partners in improving the health and wellbeing of the NHS workforce.

Leadership and OD experts from Arden & GEM’s Healthcare Solutions team were asked to support the programme team in developing a national strategy and roadmap for NHS Occupational Health and Wellbeing Services.

The challenge

In early 2021, in response to the publication of the NHS People Plan and the NHS Health and Wellbeing Framework, NHS England (NHSE) commissioned a review of occupational health in the NHS led by Dr Steve Boorman CBE. The findings of which were published in the discussion document Growing a Healthier Tomorrow.

The review recognised the need to grow and invest in NHS Occupational Health and Wellbeing Services while acknowledging longstanding service pressures which had been further exposed in responding to the challenge the COVID-19 pandemic had posed to the health and wellbeing needs of NHS staff.

NHSE launched the Growing Occupational Health and Wellbeing (OHWB) programme to drive forward collaboration, commitment and co-design within OH and WB Services which will transform support for the 1.3 million people working in the NHS.

Our approach

The three-phase programme began in 2021, with Arden & GEM tasked with delivering phase two between October 2021 and May 2022. This phase would co-design a roadmap with service users and providers to deliver the Growing OHWB vision for NHS services and local systems.

Arden & GEM brought together a multidisciplinary team using a matrix working approach comprising a skilled resource in evidence review, health and wellbeing, programme management, communications and engagement. The resource was integrated into the NHSE team to ensure a holistic and supportive approach.

Engagement and co-design
A series of virtual co-design workshops, including OH and WB leads, service users, organisational and system leaders was facilitated alongside interviews with national academics and stakeholders. Key lines of enquiry were designed and utilised to gather evidence and capture themes and feedback. This was complemented by a series of three ‘Breakfast Clubs’ which brought together the wider NHS OH community and included presentations from nationally recognised experts including Government advisor, Dame Carol Black and BP’s Chief Medical Officer, Richard Heron. Over 90 people attended each session with excellent feedback received from participants.

Additional engagement sessions were delivered, working closely with the NHSE programme team, with organisations such as the Department for Work and Pensions, the Social Partnership Forum and private sector OH Services. All engagement led to a redesign of the programme vision and drivers to ensure they reflected the interventions required in the roadmap.

Arden & GEM also facilitated and supported the development of a Community of Practice with the four ICS OH pilots to nurture peer support. Dedicated OH sessions included developing the workforce, operating models, business case development and current research trials. This Community of Practice is now sustainable and continues to share best practice and learning.

Occupational health strategy and roadmap
Building on the co-design and engagement activities, a 3 to 5-year roadmap and draft strategy were developed containing key themes, academic evidence and best practice examples of occupational health. The draft strategy was tested and reviewed by national OH experts, members of the programme steering group and executive-level NHS leaders from the Arden & GEM bank of associates.

A suite of additional supporting evidence was produced for use by NHSE in their iterative development of the national Growing OCWB Together strategy and accompanying roadmap.

The outcomes

NHSE used the outputs produced by Arden & GEM to inform and create the Growing OHWB Together strategy, which is published on the NHSE website. The national strategy will provide a roadmap and recommendations for NHS Occupational Health and Wellbeing Services, with steps to take forward over the next 3-5 years.

"Growing OHWB Together was a crucial piece of work for the national HWB team. It recognises the important role that OH and wellbeing services play in looking after our people and setting out the workforce and service growth strategy for the next 5 years.

The approach we took was very much of co-design with the service. Arden & GEM CSU was a key part of enabling and supporting that collaborative approach, supporting the engagement with our variety of stakeholders in a diversity of ways reaching around 1,000 people, analysing the responses, and using the outputs of this work for making recommendations on how we designed the Growing OHWB Together strategy."

Dr Adam Turner, Improving Health and Wellbeing Lead at NHS England

The co-design and engagement approach taken throughout the Growing OHWB programme has ensured that service users and providers have been integral to facilitating the development of the strategy ‘blueprint’.

The matrix management structure employed by Arden & GEM enabled multidisciplinary team members with subject matter expertise to contribute knowledge to the programme and collaborate on the design and content of the draft strategy.

Successful implementation of the strategy and roadmap will enable the programme to achieve its vision of developing more integrated OH and WB Services with teams becoming trusted, integrated partners in improving the health and wellbeing of NHS people.