Testing the Stress & Resilience framework – how I’ve experienced the testing process so far

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Hello. My name is Claire. I am head of wellbeing at Whipps Cross Hospital, one of the five hospitals in the Barts Health NHS Trust group in East London.

Like many people in the NHS, my job has changed enormously as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. Pre-Covid, I worked as part of our Trust-wide strategy team. Then, early in the first Covid peak I became a member of a small team redeployed from our regular roles to focus on taking care of Barts Health’s people. The focus of our work was to ensure that our organisation’s values – Welcoming, Engaging, Collaborative, Accountable, Respectful and Equitable (WeCare) – were kept to the fore for our staff as they responded to the extraordinary demands of the pandemic.

We have overseen the delivery of a wide range of services since April including establishing wellbeing hubs, supporting leaders and teams with coaches, delivering psychological support, and signposting staff to resources available to all NHS workers. In addition, we have been working with our partner Barts Charity to turn very generous donations from the public into tangible changes in the environment in which our staff work by upgrading staff rooms, bicycle storage, change facilities and overnight accommodation. 

These wellbeing interventions were appreciated by everyone who benefited from them. Frontline staff and our executive boards alike soon realised that that there needed to be a step change in our prioritisation of staff wellbeing, and that this should be permanent, not just to support us through the pandemic.  

That’s where our interest in the Stress and Resilience Framework comes in. During the summer, we’ve been engaging with staff from all professional groups, levels and locations to begin work to design an organisational strategy for wellbeing. We have already committed to some interventions including an increase in the provision of clinical health psychology, and permanent wellbeing hubs. We had been involved in an earlier phase of testing the emerging work by the National Workforce Skills Development Unit on an NHS Stress and Resilience Framework. The calm after the first wave of Covid seemed like an ideal time to offer our large, diverse organisation as a testing ground to support its further development. We want to become an organisation in which all staff can give of their best for the benefit of patients, their families and their colleagues. We recognise that some staff experience high levels of stress and that there needs to be an organisational response to this, not a reliance on personal resilience. We are curious as to whether the Framework will support us to make the step change in Barts Health that we know we need to make.

Despite the operational pressures of a rising second wave of the pandemic, I’m delighted that we have identified a wonderful group of Barts Health people who are willing to devote their time to explore the Stress and Resilience Framework and consider how it could be applied in an NHS organisation like ours. We have doctors, nurses, allied health professionals, operational managers, organisational development specialists and wellbeing leads in the testing group team, with different amounts of experience in the organisation and in the NHS. We have been meeting for well-facilitated on-line workshops once a week for three weeks now. 

It is valuable to take time out to reflect on what happens in our organisation as it relates to stress and resilience. Naturally, the events of the pandemic have been prominent in the discussions so far. The disproportionate impact on people from black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds has been a live topic, as has the change in societal thinking prompted by the death of George Floyd and the Black Lives Matter movement.  

We are looking at our organisation through a range of lenses provided by the five pillars of the Stress and Resilience Framework, and we are identifying a lot of what goes on that exacerbates the stresses of work. At times this makes for distressing and heavy discussion. We’re not yet at the point in the programme when we start to focus on how we might turn this thinking into organisational change for the benefit of NHS staff, but I am excited to get to that point and see where this will take us. 

Alert: The National Workforce Skills Development Unit has now closed

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