With over 18,000 employees, Sheffield Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust is one of the UK’s largest and busiest NHS foundation trusts.
In 2018, following a review of stress related sickness absence in some parts of the trust the HR team found that stress related absence was often not due to work related stress but factors outside of work. The staff engagement and wellbeing team suspected that a significant number of staff had caring responsibilities outside of work which was increasing their stress but until the new question in the 2020 NHS Staff survey, had no evidence to support this.
The results of the April People Pulse showed 42 per cent were concerned about their caring responsibilities. A carers forum to help reduce stress, increase support for these members of staff and improve their wellbeing was set up.
Key benefits and outcomes
1. The initial findings from their evaluation show that staff who attended the forum meetings reported that they felt better supported by the organisation.
2. Colleagues who attend the forum have also reported that they feel ‘less isolated’.
3. Colleagues share tips with each other within the sessions on the practical support available and how to access it and are contacting each other outside the sessions for support and advice.
4. Colleagues are connecting with voluntary sector services such as the local Sheffield Carers Centre, Sheffield Mencap & Gateway, and Sheffield Parent Carer Forum.
What the organisation faced
With no data to support the concerns around stress and caring responsibilities it was difficult to make a business case to gain the required investment. A new question in the 2020 NHS staff survey identified that 32 per cent of the 18,000 staff had caring responsibilities outside of work. This is consistent with the national average in the NHS.
Every day 6,000 people become carers, and an estimated 3.7 million people are working carers in England and Wales. A growing number of people are having to play a dual role in balancing their jobs with their caring responsibilities. There are an estimated 250,000 carers working in the NHS, many of whom are aged between 45 to 64 and so are likely to be among our most experienced and skilled staff.
In addition, around 75 per cent of NHS staff are female and more likely to have caring responsibilities according to figures taken from Carers UK.
In April 2020, the trust used the NHS People Pulse survey for the first time and the results highlighted that 42 per cent of the workforce at Sheffield were concerned about their caring responsibilities.
What the organisation did
Using both the NHS staff survey and pulse survey results, the staff engagement and wellbeing team were able to bid for funding to South Yorkshire and Bassetlaw Integrated Care System (ICS). The aim was to set up a carers forum to improve staff wellbeing by reducing stress and increasing support for this group of staff.
The initial funding was for £6000 for a six-month pilot of the carers forum from July 2021. Following a successful initial evaluation, this was extended by a further £6000 for another 6 months on condition it was opened up to all NHS workers in Sheffield. This included 1.5 days per week of Band 4 support, which gave the team more capacity to develop the initiative as well as funding to pay the expenses of external speakers.
The forum meetings have taken place once a month and last for around two hours. For the first half of the meeting, a guest speaker is invited to give ‘expert’ advice / information on a particular topic. The second half focusses on peer support. The first online network session was held on the 18 August 2021. The forum was opened to NHS staff across Sheffield from January 2022.
The staff engagement and wellbeing team were keen for the carers forum to be a supportive, accessible space where staff can access practical information and get peer support from other staff carers.
The pilot was launched during the COVID-19 pandemic and delivery has been held virtually ever since. This has enabled attendance levels of 15-20 people each month with some repeat attenders.
The generosity of internal and external guest speakers across Sheffield has enabled the forum to deliver a range of information sessions covering:
the support available from Sheffield Carers Centre
top tips for caring for someone with dementia
the support available for staff who care for children with a disability or special educational needs from Sheffield Parent Carer Forum and Sheffield Mencap and Gateway
top tips for caring for someone following a stroke
During this journey, the staff engagement and wellbeing team have tried to be flexible moving from more general peer support breakout groups to more thematic breakouts for more effective peer support e.g. caring for an elderly relative or a child with special needs.
Recognising the current service pressures, access to the sessions is very flexible with an opt in/opt out format for both the guest speaker(s) and the peer support elements of the monthly sessions.
In December, due to service pressures a one hour peer support only session was held.
Results and benefits
Seven sessions have been delivered so far with some staff having now attended multiple forum meetings.
The initial findings from evaluation show that staff who attended the forum meetings reported that they felt better supported by the organisation.
Colleagues who attend the forum have also reported that they feel ‘less isolated’ which was a key aim for the forum as it is known from the Schwartz rounds evidence to reduce stress.
Colleagues share tips and advice with each other within the sessions and are contacting each other outside the sessions for support both through the Microsoft Teams channel set up for carers and informally.
Colleagues are connecting with voluntary sector services such as the local Sheffield Carers Centre.
It is also important to note that some attendees who do not actively participate during the sessions still report that they find them useful.
The carers forum provides an opportunity to promote the trust wellbeing support and the importance of self care.
The usual challenges of communicating with a large cohort of colleagues across five hospitals and in community venues across the rest of the city created a significant challenge, even more so with additional pressures of the pandemic.
The capacity of colleagues to support and engage with the network has been limited due to the workload pressures.
Access to IT for some staff groups, such as domestics, is poor which is an issue currently being addressed by the trust.
However, the strong network of staff engagement and wellbeing leads have helped to overcome some of these challenges and a range of communication channels is used such as the monthly staff engagement and wellbeing newsletter.
The use of digital tools such as the staff health and wellbeing SharePoint and @STH_Wellbeing twitter feed have helped to spread the word about the carers forum. In addition, MS Teams has supported networking outside of the formal sessions.
The forum meetings are advertised on the trusts’ benefits portal from Vivup, which staff can access via personal devices or at home.
The team hopes to continue to run the forum after the funding ends. This may well continue to be run virtually as this is easier for staff to access without having to travel between sites or whilst caring for their relative.
Be flexible about the format of the support offered to enable access.
Communicate the offer as widely as possible by making full use of the comms channels available.
Identify key support for peer support sessions from colleagues with knowledge/experience of caring.
The sessions can get emotional as people share. Make sure that peer support facilitators are equipped to cope/support others. Keep people safe with appropriate follow ups.
Remind attendees about the wider health and wellbeing offer.
Use the wealth of expertise within your own organisation as guest speakers for example, dementia specialists etc.
Conduct evaluation within the sessions for example, polls and questionnaires.
For further information about the Sheffield Teaching Hospital Trust Carers Network please contact Cara Green, health and wellbeing project manager via email at Cara.email@example.com