NHS to appoint wellbeing guardians to board as part of next decade plans

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'Wellbeing guardians' should sit on the board of every NHS organisation in England, with specific responsibilities for the mental health and wellbeing of their staff, new government plans have said.

The board-level position would be responsible for seeking to 'assure and continue to re-assure the board that their organisation is a wellbeing organisation and a healthy workplace in which NHS staff and learners can work and thrive', says the report. 

NHS boards across the country would benchmark and monitor performance in health and wellbeing so that the two are given equal weight in organisational performance assessment.

Health and wellbeing should be given equal weight in organisational performance, says the Commission

The role could be an existing executive director, who would work closely with a Workplace Wellbeing Leader. This would be someone who works on the ground among staff, be an ‘active listener’ and be able to offer confidential support.

Recommendations were made in the developing people for health and healthcare report published on 20 February by the new NHS Staff and Learners’ Mental Wellbeing Commission. It was set up under then health secretary Jeremy Hunt in December 2017. 

Work will feed into the NHS long term plan, a five to ten-year agenda for making improvements in care quality and outcomes, while also tackling the pressures staff face. 

Measures should help NHS organisations make positive progress on sickness absence rates, staff performance and retention, says government. It also follows the latest NHS staff survey which showed that less than a third of staff felt their organisation took positive action towards improving their health and wellbeing.

Other recommendations included:

  • Post-incident support for NHS frontline staff, such as peer group support or a more formal psychological assessment
  • Fast-tracked mental health referrals for NHS employees if requested as a priority from either a GP or an occupational health clinician
  • Rest spaces for on-call staff and trainees during and after their shifts, providing security, shower facilities and refreshments
  • Students on healthcare courses to learn as part of their curriculum, self-awareness, selfcare, support signposting (for self and peers) and suicide risk awareness and prevention

Work has been led by Sir Keith Pearson, former Chair of Health Education England. His panel heard from staff working in the NHS whose wellbeing has been adversely affected by workplace experiences, and from families bereaved by the death of a loved one who ended their life while in the employment of the NHS.

The Commission also heard from representatives of beacons of best practice where colleague wellbeing is supported and championed.

Commenting on the plans, Health and Social Care Secretary Matt Hancock said: “I’m so proud of the service NHS staff give, so the mental and physical wellbeing of the people who work in our health service must be our utmost priority. This important report helps guide how we can do that, from creating the right culture of support to giving everyone somewhere to turn in the toughest times.”

Paul Jenkins, chair of the Mental Health Network, said: "This report shines a welcome light and makes sound recommendations on looking after the mental wellbeing of our staff and learners. We particularly welcome the announcement of the Wellbeing Guardians who will champion staff wellbeing at board level.”

Developing people for health and healthcare report here
Government commentary on report here 







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