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The staff of Northumbria’s Psychology and Counselling team, consisting of 4 clinicians, were involved in the planning and delivering of this initiative. The programme grew out of the idea that investing time and resource into a psychological intervention aimed at improving staff resilience would reap benefits in terms of improving their wellbeing and performance at work with positive effects on the patient experience.

There is a growing evidence base for the links between improved staff wellbeing and positive patient outcomes. (West et al 2011). The experiences of staff are associated with the quality of care provided to patients and of particular note is the proposal that staff wellbeing is an antecedent of good patient experience (Maben et al 2012). We were keen to introduce staff to a preventative, early intervention in order to work in a more ‘upstream’ way to improve resilience and reduce the likelihood of stress and burnout, hoping to reduce the likelihood of absence and presenteeism, i.e. being at work but not well with negative implications for performance and patient care.

We delivered the training to groups of staff, a number of whom were already experiencing a common mental health problem (typically anxiety or depression). To date, 200 members of staff have been through the training. Results showed that the training intervention had a significantly positive impact on staff wellbeing and work related functioning. Staff attending the training improved in terms of their distress and ended up with better than average levels of mental health. This positive result was sustained at a 3 month follow up. Staff also reported a significant improvement in their ability to: 1. Concentrate at work 2. Think clearly at work 3. Handle their workload 4. Do their work without making mistakes 5. Feel capable at work

Dr Paul Flaxman – Senior Lecturer in Organisational Psychology – City University London – provides the following summary of the work. I have been privileged to witness the Northumbria team learn, develop, and implement an innovative training programme to help improve staff psychological health and effectiveness in their interactions with each other and their patients. Their specific approach is based on acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT), which is a more recent development within the fields of psychotherapy and human functioning. As far as I am aware, Teresa Jennings and her team are the first NHS occupational health practitioners to pick up and adapt this approach for delivery to their own staff groups. I have been most impressed by their externally validated results. They have helped to improve staff members’ psychological flexibility, which is an ability linked to improved relationships with patients among healthcare professionals. It is notable that the training has resulted in significant and clinically meaningful improvements in mental health among members of Northumbria Trust staff who were involved in a pilot project. This learning is transferable, and I firmly believe the team deserve recognition for their dedication to improving staff mental health at a very difficult time for the NHS.

About the Author:

Annie Laverty

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