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Donna Griffiths, Chief People Officer at University Hospitals Coventry and Warwickshire (UHCW) NHS Trust, discusses how putting the focus on the wellbeing of employees during challenging times and introducing support packages and policies can make a powerful impact.

Chief People Officer at University Hospitals Coventry and Warwickshire (UHCW) NHS Trust

Donna Griffiths, Chief People Officer at University Hospitals Coventry and Warwickshire (UHCW) NHS Trust


It’s no secret that during the past few years the NHS has been under enormous pressure and members of staff across the system have been feeling the direct impact.

To help manage demands and ensure our patients continued to receive high quality care many of our colleagues were redeployed into other roles across the Trust. This meant that individuals became part of new teams in new departments and took on different tasks and responsibilities whilst adapting to new working schedules.

Both professionally and personally this was challenging for our workforce but it saw our teams unite and support each other during the most difficult time that the NHS has seen. I’m incredibly proud to be part of an organisation that has shown the strength to pull together and it has made the health and wellbeing of our teams ever more important.

A holistic health and wellbeing support approach

Compassion towards others is embedded within UHCW NHS Trust’s DNA and this is reflected in our Trust values and commitment to improving the support we offer our staff.

Our holistic health and wellbeing support is broken down into three key areas; emotional wellbeing, financial wellbeing and physical wellbeing, and was introduced following direct staff feedback on what mattered most to them.

Emotional wellbeing

For our emotional wellbeing offering we regularly host webinars where key experts across the Trust share information on how to prevent fatigue, manage stress and practice mindfulness. We produce self-help guides and promote support apps and colleagues can go to Compassionate Cafes with our Chaplaincy team and attend monthly Schwartz Rounds to discuss and reflect on the emotional and psychological burdens of their roles. We have an Employee Assistance Programme which gives colleagues access to confidential advice and guidance 24/7 to help them deal with personal and professional problems that can impact their home or work life and general health and wellbeing. We also have Freedom to Speak Up Guardians and Confidential Contacts who offer confidential advice and support for staff to raise concerns.

Throughout the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic we have continued to develop the psychological support for our staff with the introduction of a Rest and Recharge Garden and ‘Wobble’ Rooms providing dedicated areas for staff to step away from working environments and take time for themselves. Virtual Reality (VR) headsets have also been launched to support staff wellbeing to help reduce stress and anxiety by providing a variety of experiences including breathing exercises, meditative spaces and wildlife or space scenarios.

Financial wellbeing

A financial wellbeing offering is also available for staff to take advantage of, including cycle to work schemes, car sharing and lease initiatives as well as salary sacrifice options, discounts and funding for childcare support.

The care and determination that our teams show every day does not go unnoticed and we understand that they too deserve support and compassion from their organisation.

I always say that we bring our whole selves to work; we don’t leave our personal challenges and lives at the door. Some colleagues may be juggling caring for children or supporting elderly relatives alongside their role at our Trust and it’s essential that we continue to adapt our support offering to suit our colleagues and retain our skilled workforce.

Compassionate leave

As part of our commitment to listening to our staff and tailoring our support to their needs, we’ve started the New Year by introducing a new Compassionate Leave Policy that offers enhanced leave for bereavement and those undergoing fertility treatment or experiencing pregnancy loss and for parents of premature babies.

On average our maternity services see more than five thousand babies delivered every year and we’re proud to be at the forefront of fertility treatment and recognised as delivering the best IVF results in the UK. With this in mind, members of our teams that undergo pregnancy or experience fertility treatment are also likely to be our patients, making it incredibly important for us to recognise the struggles they face and show them the same care and compassion that they do to our patients.

This is why we’ve reviewed and updated our Compassionate Leave Policy and have become the first NHS Trust to sign the Miscarriage Association’s Pregnancy Loss Pledge, meaning anyone who experiences pregnancy loss is now entitled to 10 days paid leave, with five days for partners. We hope this new approach will help break down the taboo of pregnancy loss, allow staff to grieve in their own way and enable us to connect our teams to the specialist support and advice they need when they return to work.

We’ve also joined eight other NHS organisations in signing the Employers with a Heart Charter – with maternity leave for mothers of premature babies extended by the number of days a baby is born before their due date. Partners of women will be given two weeks paid compassionate leave on the birth of their premature baby so paternity leave can be taken when their baby goes home. We hope this will enable our staff to have that added time with their family when it’s needed the most and relieve any pressures they may feel to return to work sooner.

Additional support measures

Other additional measures introduced to support staff health and wellbeing includes bereavement leave extending from three days to 10 and in cases of child bereavement, colleagues being given 10 days fully paid additional leave. Colleagues undergoing fertility treatment are now able to take five days leave over a 12 month period.

Following the launch of the new initiative we have received lots of positive feedback from members of staff that have experienced issues relating to the new policy and view it as a positive move. Organisations such as the Fertility Network UK have shown their support, with further opportunities for collaboration being explored.

We hope the changes provide that extra bit of reassurance to our colleagues that they are not alone and that it’s okay for them to take extra time when unexpected life challenges occur.

I’d urge other organisations to listen to their staff and understand what matters most to them as we’re all human after all.

For more information on the launch of our new policy including a short video from experts across our Trust please visit our website here.

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