Royal Pharmaceutical Society

Supporting new ways of working: looking after our mental health and wellbeing

By Karen Crosby, Medicines Optimisation Pharmacist, Staffordshire and Stoke on Trent CCGs

I work in a Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) and we work closely with five other CCGs in our area. We are currently discussing how we merge to become part of the Integrated Care System (ICS). The team I work in is small, but we are part of a much larger team within the CCGs.

Working from home

Like many organisations, during the pandemic and lockdown, staff had to work from home. We went from being part of a team, seeing each other daily in the office or GP practice, to being isolated at home. Due to this change, mental health and wellbeing was recognised as an issue by the CCGs and was accelerated up the agenda.

Remote working has drawn out some positives in terms of the ability to work in a flexible way and productivity has also increased. However, some things are difficult to do remotely in terms of technology.

Having conversations

Our CCGs developed a health and wellbeing conversation template which covers areas such as roles and responsibilities at work, flexibility, support at work and wellbeing. This template helps facilitate an in-depth health and wellbeing conversation between managers and their team members. Here’s some case studies about NHS wellbeing conversations.

A shorter version of four prompt questions has also been useful to use in one-to-one conversations and this involves the following questions:

  • How are you? Really?
  • What are you worried about?
  • What’s going well?
  • What do you need?

Informal communication

The CCGs also set up informal meetings, “coffee and chat” to help those who were feeling isolated or just for colleagues who wanted to connect in a way that you normally would over a coffee.

One of the GPs working for the CCGs also hosted regular virtual meetings to which all CCG staff were invited.  He discussed mental health and wellbeing and provided humorous reflections of dealing with mental health issues in addition to topical discussions which staff could join in or simply observe.

We also had Wellbeing Wednesdays where all staff received an email around wellbeing. This has now merged into a ‘Back to the Future’ type of email but wellbeing is still prominent within these emails and includes the action for happiness calendar.

Personal outcomes for health and wellbeing conversations

As an end user of the template, I believe that having this template for health and wellbeing conversations has provided a platform to have more open and honest discussions and a safe area to do this. Overall, it has provided a focus on mental health and wellbeing and given people the permission to ask how you are and for you to really engage in this type of conversation.

Having the mental health and wellbeing conversations also means that vulnerable groups within the staffing population have been recognised. The CCGs have set up a number of networks to support those that are vulnerable such as a carers group and group for those that are shielding. I am a carer and the CCGs have worked together with the Carers Hub to facilitate carers’ support meetings which have been really beneficial.

The CCGs have set the scene for these kinds of conversations to take place. Normally, staff members would not necessarily flag up wellbeing issues. Within the team we now know who lives on their own, who has had vaccines but is worried about going out, who is a carer etc and we keep an eye out for them and regularly connect with them for a chat.

Outcomes for the organisation

Mental health and wellbeing have been raised up the agenda within the CCGs, and health and wellbeing conversations have created a shift in the organisational culture, in which staff health and wellbeing is considered a priority.

Staff wellbeing conversations are part of one-to-one meetings, and we were all encouraged, where comfortable, to raise concerns or issues. It was felt that this approach would provide support and enable staff to work more effectively. 

CCGs won’t exist anymore next year so there is a lot of organisational development happening and now mental health and wellbeing is included as part of this.

Whilst it cannot be directly attributed to the change in culture, it has been noted that sickness absence and leaver rates have reduced since the launch of this support.   

Next steps

All of the CCGs within the area have agreed that these new ways of working will continue to be rolled out through ongoing wellbeing conversations, where line managers explore the needs of their staff going forward and provide them with the support they need.

Fill out the RPS Workforce Wellbeing survey, released next week. 

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