Alder Hey Children’s NHS Foundation Trust – Gold Winner of the Excellence Award for Healthcare Workers’ Wellbeing

Date:  05 December 2023

Alder Hey Children’s NHS Foundation Trust recognized as Gold winner for the American Hospital Association Excellence Award for Healthcare Workers’ Wellbeing at the 2023 IHF Awards

You’ll never walk alone: Staff support and the compassionate workplace

Healthcare workers have had to face tremendous emotional challenge in delivering services during periods of adversity including rising patient-related trauma, growing seasonal crisis and a global pandemic. UK’s National Health Service (NHS) is cognizant that high levels of uncertainty, post-pandemic anxiety and conflict, and socio-economic stress have resulted in a significant rise in mental health problems and work-related stress among their staff. With this, Alder Hey has developed a trauma-informed systemic approach for staff support with compassion as its framework and a Staff Advice & Liaison Service (SALS) at its core.

As far as supporting the mental health of staff is concerned, the NHS has historically relied on individual wellbeing interventions, such as counselling. More recently, there has been a rise in reliance on app-based methods of support. However, NHS has considered feedback from staff themselves that such wellbeing interventions alone will not be sufficient without interventions that more closely address hygiene factors affecting the daily experience of work and working relationships. Research and lived experience show that face to face sustained approaches, walking alongside staff in their suffering would support staff in their mental health challenges related to work. Additionally, closely having them linked with line managers, who have a significant impact on staff wellbeing, and challenging the stigma associated with mental health is something beneficial as well.

Actively supporting staff wellbeing

By 2018, a period of organizational adversity brought psychology into organizational development and staff support. Information gathered through whole-organization debriefing lead to the development of the Strong Foundations. Since then, Alder Hey has trained 500 leaders in the Strong Foundations program. An internal pool of 32 coaches have also been trained to sustain the gains from Strong Foundations. By 2019, such initiative led to the development of the Strong Foundations leadership program that focuses on developing compassion, competence, and psychological safety across the organization. With Covid-19 on the horizon in January 2020, the Staff Advice & Liaison Service (SALS) was begun, providing an open-access, single door listening and support service for all staff and learners. By November 2022, SALS Pals was launched, providing a network of trained wellbeing champions, structured and supervised to notice and spread attention to suffering and enhance organizational recovery through learning.

Since setting up SALS, the proportion of staff absent from work due to Mental Health reasons has dropped to 29.62% in 2022 from 43.49% in 2020. There was also significant positive feedback from staff. This demonstrates how the program has helped build a shifting culture where staff feel less shame in seeking help and showing vulnerability. Alder Hey takes pride that their staff support, enhanced by 83 trained SALS Pals has evolved as a “must do” rather than a “nice to have”. Today, it has become a critical element of the daily operations of this organization.

Alder Hey is still actively engaged in research to continue developing evidence-based support strategies that will foster staff well-being. They have so far contributed to research in the fields of critical incident debriefing and staff support. They have also started mentoring other NHS sites that are interested in setting up a SALS. Moreover, Alder Hey has been offering placements and training to aspiring Clinical Psychologists interested in the links between organizational development and staff wellbeing. In October, the SALS model was recommended to be part of an exemplar pathway of care in the Psychologically Informed Policy and Practice (PIPP) development project. This is a UK Research Institute-funded collaborative study between the University of Bath and Royal College of Emergency Medicine (RCEM) which investigated issues associated with work satisfaction and retention. This data formed the basis of policy recommendations for RCEM and other policymakers.

Find out more about Alder Hey Children's NHS Foundation Trust

The Staff Advice and Liaison Service (SALS) is an open access listening service available to all staff and learners at Alder Hey. The service has been developed and is delivered by Alder Hey staff for Alder Hey staff and is underpinned by the principles of person-centred compassionate care whereby staff are provided with the experience of being listened to, understood, empowered and supported to take intelligent action. Find out more in the below video.

Read the IHF Awards 2023 digital publication

Learn more about the IHF Awards winners and be inspired with their success stories.

Written by:

Eleonor Angeles

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