A study, sponsored by Greater Manchester Mental Health NHS Foundation Trust (GMMH), and funded by the National Institute for Health and Care Research (NIHR), has found that mental health wellbeing hubs were an important source of support for health and social care staff throughout the pandemic.
The study - led by Professor Filippo Varese, Director of the Complex Trauma and Resilience Research Unit (C-TRU) at GMMH and the University of Manchester (UoM), Dr Paul French, Reader at Manchester Metropolitan University (MMU) and Clinical Academic at Pennine Care NHS Foundation Trust, and Dr Kate Allsopp, Research Fellow at GMMH and UoM - also emphasises the need to preserve the staff wellbeing hubs going forward as accessible, confidential sources of help for health and social care staff.
As the COVID-19 pandemic became associated with high levels of mental health difficulties such as anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, and burnout among health and social care staff, the NHS funded 40 wellbeing hubs in England to support staff. The wellbeing hubs were modelled after the Greater Manchester Resilience Hub, which was established to support people affected by the Manchester Arena attack in 2017.
The staff wellbeing hubs (also known as Resilience Hubs) provided a variety of support to health and social care staff, who could self-refer to the services. Support offered included proactive outreach, rapid clinical assessment, access to evidenced-based psychological care, where required, and support for staff teams.
Between 2020 and 2022, the study evaluated four of these staff wellbeing hubs in the North of England.
In-depth interviews were conducted at three hubs with a diverse range of participants, including health and social care staff who used and did not use the staff wellbeing hubs for support, staff who worked at the hubs, and stakeholders involved in supporting staff within their organisations, such as occupational health and HR leads.
A total of sixty-three interviews were carried out in order to understand more about how the staff wellbeing hubs were set up, and people's experiences of getting mental health support during the pandemic.
“The Resilience Hubs were found to be important sources of support, which not only helped staff during the exceptional circumstances experienced during the pandemic but can also continue to do so going forward in the next stages of the NHS's recovery journey and beyond” says Dr Kate Allsopp, lead author of the paper.
“Too often, workplace stress is seen as ‘just part of the job’ and often participants told us they waited until they were at breaking point before getting support, so the hubs’ model, which reaches out to offer support specifically to this group of staff, is vital.”
"The study's key findings demonstrate that the staff wellbeing hubs were perceived as a valuable source of support for staff, who reported very positive experiences,” said Professor Filippo Varese, the study's chief investigator.
“Our research also emphasised the need for managers and employing organisations to genuinely and actively promote mental health support to staff, which can make an important difference to whether staff feel safe enough to seek support, he said.”
This study's findings emphasised the importance of health and social care employers prioritising and promoting mental health support for their employees. It also highlighted the need to create psychologically safe work settings and to resolve workplace stressors that can negatively impact on staff wellbeing, in order to prevent the development of mental health difficulties.
“Our research found the support provided through the resilience hubs was of real value. The stresses placed on health and social care staff during the pandemic were extreme; providing this additional support was an important step. Many staff continue to experience difficulties and these hubs continue to play a vital role for many. The real value of these hubs should be seen longer term with the ability to ramp up support in response to a wide range of complex large-scale incidents that affect our society,” said Dr Paul French.
The study recommends further outreach, and promotion in the future to raise awareness of the services provided by staff wellbeing hubs.
It also underlines the importance of diversity and cultural competence training in order to better meet the needs of underrepresented populations.
The findings are consistent with global studies and have significant policy implications for the entire health and care system. The findings are relevant not only in the context of the conditions brought about by the pandemic, but as part of ‘business as usual’ and in preparation of future crises that might, once again, severely tax the health and social care workforce.