The barriers to keeping NHS staff healthy

keeping NHS staff healthy
Internal comms can help to keep NHS staff healthy - both physically and mentally - but only once we fully understand the potential blockers. This blog brings these barriers to the surface.

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The barriers to keeping NHS staff healthy

Despite our awareness and eagerness to keep staff mentally and physically safe, it is extremely difficult to do so. The statistics speak for themselves: in 2019/20 693,000 people sustained an injury at work, whilst an additional 828,000 suffered from work-related stress, depression or anxiety. Perhaps unsurprisingly, we are also experiencing a decline in the mental health of NHS staff as a result of COVID. A study found that severe levels of anxiety rose 8% to 36% after the first wave of COVID. And severe stress increased from 11% to 46%.

This decline in mental wellbeing combined with the knowledge that physical and mental illness results in a loss of 38.8 million working days per annum, highlights the need for a greater emphasis on wellbeing initiatives. In this blog, we address the challenges and identify how you can improve the mental and physical health of your keyworkers.

The barriers to frontline employee safety and wellbeing

When you read the stats above, the challenge of reducing injury and improving mental health is big enough as it is. But combine this with the complication of how to effectively reach your employees that ‘work on the frontline’ and the scale of the challenge is amplified. Ultimately, there are two factors that complicate matters.

Their environment

By the very nature of their job, your frontline staff are more difficult to keep safe. They often work at different locations or on varied shift patterns. They simply don’t have the same consistent access to the information their desk-based counterparts have.

Many frontline workers are also reliant on their line manager to pass on a message. This reliance on receiving information secondhand presents many problems:

  • Line managers will rate messages at different levels of importance and convey these accordingly.
  • Those responsible for distributing the message have no idea whether the message was received or if it was portrayed effectively.
  • The staggered method of distributing comms makes it nigh on impossible to communicate anything urgently.

Ultimately, any dependency on third-party communications is unreliable. There are too many steps involved in the process and too many variables that will impact the speed, effectiveness and responsiveness of each communication.

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Their perception

While the environment is an obvious blocker to communicating and keeping frontline staff safe, there is a more problematic, silent barrier. Perception.

How frontline staff perceive their manager, senior leadership and NHS as a whole, has a big impact on how they work. Many of the decisions and actions that an employee takes will be influenced by their own motivations and drivers. If they are not engaged, the risk of them not reading the latest health and safety notice, or taking potentially dangerous shortcuts, or not mentioning their growing anxiety, is increased.

But many organisations also suffer from a two-way perception challenge. Frontline staff are often less visible and as such, their needs and voices often, albeit subconsciously, come lower down in the pecking order. It’s often a historical pattern that has become engrained. How many times have you heard things like; “we’ve always communicated that way” or “but the domestic team just don’t care about that stuff”. These are all perceptions that need to be addressed and without addressing them, there will be a ‘them and us’ culture.

Ultimately, any perception, whether misconstrued or accurate, will be a blocker. If those on the frontline perceive themselves, or believe someone else perceives them, to be less valued than their colleagues they will lack pride, confidence and satisfaction. They will feel as though they don’t have a voice and their wellbeing and work will take a hit.

Using internal communications to improve health & safety

What the two barriers above highlight is that unless your frontline teams are engaged, your health, safety and wellbeing policy will not be effective.

As a provider of internal communications software, we have worked with our clients to strengthen their internal comms strategies so they can communicate health & safety strategies that resonate and take effect. If you would like to discover how NewZapp Trusted Delivery can help you through the barriers get in touch.


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Rachel Stidworthy

Marketing Manager

With over 15 years’ experience in communications I have seen first-hand the difference strong internal communications can make. I am passionate about helping organisations reap the rewards of an engaged workforce and feel privileged to work for an organisation that has this same passion. We can achieve more when we work together towards the same goals. 

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