NHS to appoint wellbeing guardians to board as part of next decade plans

Directors with specific responsibilities for staff mental health and wellbeing should sit on boards of all NHS hospitals, new government plans earmarked to transform culture and performance over the next decade reveal.

The new role of workplace wellbeing guardian would be responsible for seeking to 'assure and continue to re-assure the board that their organisation is a wellbeing organisation and a healthy workplace in which NHS staff and learners can work and thrive', says the report issued by Department of Health on 20 February.

The role would be taken up by an existing executive director, working closely with a Workplace Wellbeing Leader, also a new role. The leader role would be responsible for listening to staff concerns ‘at their level’ to address wellbeing issues in a supportive manner. The guardian would ensure ‘sufficient information’ is given to the board so it can benchmark, set organisational expectations and monitor performance.

Health and wellbeing should be given equal weight in organisational performance, says the Commission

Recommendations are part of the new NHS long term plan, an agenda for the next five to ten years for making improvements in care quality and outcomes, while also tackling the pressures staff face. 

Work has been led by Sir Keith Pearson, former chair of Health Education England. His panel heard from NHS staff whose wellbeing has been adversely affected by workplace experiences, and from families bereaved by the death of a loved one who ended their life while in the employment of the NHS.

Commenting on the plans, Paul Jenkins, chair of the Mental Health Network, said: "This report shines a welcome light and makes sound recommendations on looking after the mental wellbeing of our staff and learners.

"We also welcome the focus on system leadership to improve staff psychological well-being by placing a strong focus for improvement at Board level,” he added.

Health and social care secretary Matt Hancock said: “I’m so proud of the service NHS staff give, so the mental and physical wellbeing of the people who work in our health service must be our utmost priority. This important report helps guide how we can do that, from creating the right culture of support to giving everyone somewhere to turn in the toughest times.”

In addition, there are recommendations to provide staff rest spaces in hospitals, such as for on-call staff and learners who may need to sleep on site after an on-call shift before they are safe to travel home. There will also be fast-tracked mental health referrals for NHS employees if requested as a priority from their GP and post-incident support for NHS frontline staff.

The plans follow rising concerns for NHS workers’ mental health, highlighted recently by the death in 2017, of a junior doctor who took her own life after suffering from a panic attack. Figures from the Office for National Statistics, covering England, showed that between 2011 and 2015, 430 health professionals took their own lives.

Developing people for health and healthcare report here
Government commentary on report here