DH backs calls to tackle mental health problems among staff

The government has accepted in full the recommendations of an NHS occupational health review that found staff were suffering from high levels of mental ill-health.

Health secretary Andy Burnham announced yesterday that improving staff health and well-being would be a priority in the NHS operating framework for 2010-11, meaning trusts will be assessed on it by the Care Quality Commission through staff surveys.

He backed the recommendations of occupational health expert Dr Steve Boorman’s review into the well-being of NHS staff, which was published in August.

This found that staff were suffering mental ill-health due to stress, bullying and harassment and managers were not taking employees’ concerns seriously enough.

Boorman claimed the NHS could save £555m a year by reducing sickness absence, which currently costs the service £1.7bn and numbers 10.7 million days a year.

The Department of Health pledged to take forward a recommendation for staff to have access to early intervention support for common mental health and musculo-skeletal problems, like back pain.

It said NHS occupational health teams should invest in physiotherapy and psychological counselling services, by reprioritising resources, including through reduced use of pre-employment screening.

The DH also said it would call on trusts to give managers access to training and guidance in managing staff with mental health problems, and other required training to improve staff well-being.

In a letter to Boorman, Burnham said he would call on strategic health authorities to lead the implementation of the review in their areas, and said £6.5m had been set aside to monitor implementation nationally.

The Chartered Society of Physiotherapy welcomed the announcement, but chief executive Phil Gray said: “The government needs to ensure that strategic health authorities and primary care trusts make the necessary early investment in specialist physiotherapy to implement Dr Boorman’s recommendations. This is not something that can be done half-heartedly.”

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