Health and well-being in the emergency operations centre


03 / 07 / 2012

The organisation

What we did and why

How we did it

Results and next steps

Tips for other trusts

Contact details


The organisation

Yorkshire Ambulance Service NHS trust was formed on 1 July 2006 when the county’s three former services merged. It covers almost 6,000 square miles of varied terrain, from isolated moors and dales to highly populated urban areas, coastline and inner cities.  It employs around 4,200 staff and provides 24 hour emergency and healthcare services to a population of more than 5 million.  Over 2,600 volunteers also make a vital contribution to the service.

What we did and why

Jayne Whitehouse is a member of the trust’s health & well-being forum at a strategic level, her aim was to take initiatives down to departmental level and engage with staff.

Sickness absence in the emergency operations centre (EOC) was increasing. This was of great concern not only because of the cost, but the issues it created around adequate staffing levels to meet demand and provide high quality patient care.  Whilst the sickness absence policy was in operation, it didn’t appear to be having sufficient effect and the management team were continually ‘fire fighting’ without actually getting to the root cause.

The trust set about analysing why people were absent and what that meant in real terms of cost and the extra strain on valuable resources – the staff.  The findings which were unexpected,  were presented to the staff and the EOC management team. 

Below are some key points from the presentation:

  • During the period of November 2009 to November 2010, the department lost 48, 000 hours to sickness absence
  • The financial cost of this equates to £1.5m of public monies
  • The average call answer time in 2010 was 3 seconds
  • The impact on colleagues continuing to deliver a service: increased levels of stress, decreased motivation, ineffective team working, decreased engagement
  • The potential for impact on public trust and confidence – incalculable
  • Set a target to reduce sickness absence by one third, which would reduce spending to the value of an extra 21 telephone. advisors. (EMD) and 18 dispatchers.

At the end of the presentation, staff were asked to volunteer to become members of the EOC health and well-being forum.

How we did it

The forum was led by Jayne Whitehouse, EOC manager for workforce, along with staff volunteers, staff side representative, OH and HR.  They held their inaugural meeting and presented the initial findings along with what the forum were tasked to achieve.  They discussed what they could do as a group and each went away with an area to work on.  The group agreed terms of reference and also what was available nationally and locally to link into.

A focal point for information was introduced in the form of a ‘health and well-being corner’ within the EOC along with a monthly newsletter.  Different themes, campaigns and 'hot topics' are covered by including them in the newsletter and then backing this up with further information and advice in the health and well-being corner. Some of the topics covered so far are:

  • Winter health and Well-being – linking into the flu jab campaign and including information and advice around keeping warm, eating healthy food and also S.A.D
  • Workstation exercise and good posture – hints and tips for good posture and help to reduce tiredness, strains and aches whilst working
  • National organ donation – information around the donor register and how to register.
  • Healthy heart – Linking in to the British Heart Foundation (BHF) three main themes, think fit, eat well and think well.  February 2012 is heart health month and the trust has lots of activities planned to raise staff members’ awareness and offer information whilst raising funds through events for BHF
  • Department of Health Change for Life/ five a day – various activities and information for the whole family.

The trust has also developed its intranet information and included links to health articles and magazines.  The trust recently added information from the Money Advice Service and the health check they offer for finances.  The team recognised that times are tough for everyone in today’s climate and staff are no exception.  Being aware and acknowledging that everyone can have difficulties helps to ensure staff are supported and this can prevent related health problems.

Results and next steps

The bottom line: what have we achieved?

  • 33 per cent reduction in sickness absence, a saving of £500,000
  • Improved resources available to provide the best patient care
  • Improved call answer times to an average of 1.5 seconds
  • Improvement in motivation and morale
  • A sense of feeling valued and empowered
  • Improved working environment
  • Reduced workplace stressors
  • Champions!

The whole project and setting up of the forum had a significant impact on EOC. Staff recognised the severity of the issue around sickness absence and the impact that had on ability to provide a safe service for patients.  Everyone wanted to do something and there was great interest in what the trust were trying to achieve.  Staff became actively involved in the forum and wanted to share the responsibility, new opportunities opened up giving them the autonomy to change things themselves and make a difference.

Sickness levels improved as did performance. It is important that the trust keeps the momentum going. New ‘champions’ have become involved and organise activities to keep fresh ideas coming through.  For the year ahead, they are planning activities around various campaigns such as heart health month, no smoking day, stress awareness day and carer’s day. A staff survey will be completed to find out what staff think about the forum and what effect it has had, if any, for them. This approach will also be shared with other teams in the trust.

Tips for other trusts

Share the problem with staff.
  • Get them involved – ‘engage’.
  • Listen.
  • Don’t just treat the problem, find the cause.
  • Understand the actions taken in a wide range of circumstances and how they impact on morale.  It is so easy to undo the hard work undertaken.
  • Contact details

    Jayne Whitehouse

    EOC Service Delivery Manager – Workforce

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