How our practice is supporting staff wellbeing during the pandemic

Dr Vasu Siva explains the steps her practice has taken to support staff to look after their wellbeing during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Dr Vasu Siva
Dr Vasu Siva

Due to the current pandemic we are all experiencing enormous changes to our personal, social and professional lives. The repercussions of COVID-19 will be felt for years to come.

One of the things many of us in the NHS have realised is how important it is to look after ourselves and each other if we are to continue looking after our patients. This is why our practice, Hillview Surgery in Perivale, west London, decided to launch our Hillview Holistic Staff Wellbeing initiative.

Staff wellbeing

Evidence suggests that psychosocial and workplace measures improve employees’ working lives, and in turn improve mental wellbeing. Clear communication, adequate rest and psychological support are associated with better psychological outcomes. Given the added stress and pressure of working in the NHS during a pandemic we felt it was important to take steps to address staff wellbeing.

We have a team of 23 members, which is a mix of full-time and part-time staff. During our staff meeting we talked about the importance of mental health wellbeing and recognised the impact COVID-19 would have on our staff. We designated three members of the team to signpost colleagues to organisations that could provide support and help.

We also encouraged staff to speak to a colleague, if they felt that support and advice about their mental health would be valuable and highlighted websites that could help. This was all in addition to an Employment Assistance Programme that we already operated to provide confidential help.

As we strive to deliver the best possible care for our patients, it is crucial that we look after our own mental and physical wellbeing. A holistic approach to support ourselves and staff is important and self-care is also critical.

Five Ways to Wellbeing

Collectively, we decided to use 'Five Ways to Wellbeing', a set of evidence-based health messages to help improve our mental health and wellbeing. This system was developed by the New Economics Foundation and is based on the idea that if individuals change their behaviour to incorporate five-ways-type activities into their daily lives, their subjective wellbeing should improve.

The Five Ways to Wellbeing include:

  • Connect
  • Take notice
  • Keep learning
  • Be active
  • Give

Connect
This relates to feeling close to, and valued by, other people. This is a fundamental human need and one that contributes to functioning well in the world – social relationships are critical for promoting wellbeing and act as a buffer against mental ill health.

Ideas we recommended to our staff:

  • Weekly staff meetings by Zoom.
  • We set up a ‘Hillcrew’ WhatsApp group.
  • Sharing and openly acknowledging any successes/or new initiatives.
  • Asking how someone’s weekend was and really listen when they tell you.
  • Putting five minutes aside to find out how someone really is.

Be active ?
Regular physical activity lowers rates of depression and anxiety and promotes wellbeing.

Ideas we recommended to our staff:

  • Take the stairs not the lift.
  • Go for a walk at lunchtime.
  • Walk into work - perhaps with a colleague – so they can ‘connect’ as well.
  • Do some ‘easy exercise’, like stretching, before leaving for work.
  • We offered a cycle to work scheme for anyone who wanted to apply. This allows staff to buy a bike to use to ride to work and pay for it through a salary sacrifice. More information on this government-backed scheme is here.

Take notice ?
This is about being aware of what takes place in the present that directly enhances wellbeing and savouring ‘the moment’, which helps to reaffirm life priorities.

Ideas we recommended to our staff:

  • Take a different route on your journey to or from work.
  • Have a ‘clear the clutter’ day.
  • Take notice of how your colleagues are feeling or acting.

Keep learning ?
Continued learning enhances self-esteem and encourages social interaction and a more active life.

Ideas we recommended to our staff:

  • Find out something about your colleagues.
  • Sign up for an online class.
  • Set up a book club.
  • Do a crossword or Sudoku.
  • Research something you’ve always wondered about and share with colleagues.

Give
Individuals reporting greater interest in helping others are more likely to rate themselves as happy. Research has shown that committing an act of kindness once a week over a six-week period is associated with an increase in wellbeing.

Ideas we recommended to our staff:

  • Do something nice for a friend, or a stranger.
  • Thank someone. Smile.
  • Volunteer your time. Join a community group.
  • Look out, as well as in. Seeing yourself, and your happiness, linked to the wider community can be incredibly rewarding and creates connections with the people around you.

The results

The ideas were welcomed by all our staff and on the whole elevated their mood and a sense of belonging in our 'Hillview community'. We share our achievements during first 10 minutes of our weekly staff meeting.

The weekly staff Zoom meetings were felt to be informative and supportive, especially with the rapidly changing pandemic. Sharing and openly acknowledging the team work within the practice and the difference this was making was encouraging and energising. This was particularly noticeable when we discussed an initiative we started in March, which offered wellbeing health checks to our most vulnerable patients.

Setting up the ‘Hillcrew’ WhatsApp group has enabled staff to keep in touch with each other and in touch with what is happening in the practice. This was particularly useful when staff had to self isolate due to having symptoms of COVID-19. It helped in the preparation and last minute alterations of rotas and also made the day-to-day running of the practice easier for the managers.

Most importantly, staff felt emotionally supported as a result of all this, which they have said imprvoed their general wellbeing. One of the nicest comments was that staff feel more connected with each other now.

We definitely feel a sense of unity among the team at Hillview, and I feel we have a better stronger team environment as a result.

Adapting to new ways of working is always challenging and we are hopeful some of these activities will endure beyond the pandemic.

  • Dr Siva is a GP partner at Hillview Surgery in west London

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