Geraldine Cunningham, Barts Health NHS Trust: We need to look after our healthcare workers

healthcare workers

Geraldine Cunningham, Associate Director of Culture Change and Wellbeing Lead at Barts Health NHS Trust, discusses why we need to look after our healthcare workers, so that they can look after their patients.

The phrase ‘patients come first’ is one commonly heard in the healthcare profession, and of course, patient safety is paramount. But how can we expect our people to provide safe and compassionate care, if they themselves are burnt out and stressed?

The stress that NHS staff experienced during the COVID-19 pandemic was not new, but it was severe and unprecedented. Swathed in PPE for hours on end, adapting to new roles and processes outside of their traditional expertise and the terrible fear of catching or spreading the virus itself, left some of our people feeling anxious, low and under pressure.

Having worked in healthcare for over forty years, I know that the NHS has always tried to look after its people, but the pandemic has highlighted the need for an extra level of care and detail to ensure the long-term wellbeing of our people and to prevent them from considering a change of profession.

That’s why a core focus for Barts Health NHS Trust, including St Bartholomew’s Hospital which turns 900 years old next year, is improving the wellbeing of our 24,000 strong workforce.

With a redeployed team tasked with the job of improving the wellbeing of our people, we instantly knew that we wanted to start by asking our people what mattered to them.

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The findings from this process were very revealing. It was clear that we needed to start getting the basics right. This included access to lockers so that our people could feel confident that their belongings were safe whilst they were on shift, and secure bike storage, after 38 percent of those that cycle at St Bartholomew’s Hospital experienced multiple incidents of cycle crime.

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Our people also wanted spaces to relax, enjoy some food and decompress – places to properly unwind during their break.

Thanks to the £4.5million raised through generous donations from companies and the local community to the Emergency COVID-19 Appeal launched by Barts Charity, who fund life-changing healthcare for the people of east London, we have been able to deliver these services.

We are pleased to be able to say that we have opened five wellbeing hubs to provide spaces for individual rest and reflection, social gatherings, group activities like yoga and access to other support services. They are a tranquil haven where work is discouraged away from the hustle and bustle of the hospital – a rarity within the NHS.

Alongside the hubs, our people now have a dedicated psychological support service. To date, over 6,500 people have been seen by the service, with 98 percent of users surveyed saying they felt supported and 97 percent would recommend the service to colleagues.

We have also used the funding to increase secure bike storage and lockers, as well as upgrading 34 on-call overnight rooms.

These measures may sound simple at first but the positive impact your donations have had on the day-to-day working lives of our staff is priceless – and ultimately, enables us to deliver compassionate and quality care.

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