Ways of working 

COVID-19 health, safety and wellbeing

Staff wellbeing – employers’ duty of care

Employers have a moral and statutory duty of care to protect employee’s health and safety and provide a safe environment to work. NHS organisations need to be proactive in protecting employees and supporting them to feel safe and secure in their employment. It is critical that employers support staff by listening to concerns, responding appropriately and reinforcing the need to follow the latest PHE guidance.

Employers also have a responsibility for ensuring staff do not work excessive hours and that they get sufficient rest – see information on the Working Time Regulations in the staff pay and terms and conditions of service section of this resource.

Employers have the same duty of care to their staff during a pandemic as in other circumstances, and should take steps to safeguard the health and safety of their staff. NHS organisations must consult with their health and safety leads, public health colleagues,  occupational health colleagues and staff unions to develop a local plan to support the workforce. Trade union safety representatives should also be involved and consulted on, in line with the statutory duty to consult them on matters relating to the health and safety of members they represent. Employers may want to encourage staff to use their reps as a route for flagging up concerns. PHE’s infection prevention and control guidance principles should be applied and reflected in local plans. 

In addition to following key PHE guidance, employers will need to be mindful of staff with disabilities and review support and adjustments as needed. It is important for employers to ensure employees have access to basic wellbeing provisions, to enable staff to maintain their own wellbeing. They should ensure wellbeing practices are reviewed and established to enable staff to:

  • frequently access hand washing facilities and have adequate supplies of hand sanitisers and hand cream, to prevent dermatitis
  • keep hydrated, this is especially important for staff wearing PPE for long periods of time
  • have 24-hour access to food
  • have regular breaks to reduce the onset of fatigue and associated risks - additional arrangements may need to be considered where staff are working longer shifts and/or additional hours. This could involve the repurposing of offices into rest spaces. Please refer to the Health, Safety and Wellbeing Partnership Group’s (HSWPG) guidance on safe shift working for further information, including information on provisions of ‘power naps’ and the safety of staff driving home after long shifts
  • know where to go to access local support, for example occupational health contacts, employee assistance provider (EAP) information and psychological support provisions for accessing counselling or other provisions
  • raise concerns and seek reassurance and to explore and agree solutions with their line manager where required
  • have an effective safety induction into any new areas that staff are being re-deployed, to ensure they are familiar with emergency procedures, reporting procedures and any equipment they may be asked to us
  • review of security arrangements and review violence risk assessments to protect staff from the potential of increased violence and abuse, including community staff who may be targeted if they are carrying sanitiser and PPE.  Take a look at the lone worker document which highlights the importance of protecting your staff.

COVID-19 and Ramadan – supporting staff wellbeing

The month of Ramadan begins on the evening of Thursday 23 April and ends on the evening of Saturday 23 May. Ramadan involves a daily period of fasting for Muslims starting at sunrise and finishing at sunset over the month. This means abstaining from food, drink (including water) and smoking. While fasting is an important part of Ramadan, it is also a time of self-reflection and self-evaluation for Muslims. 

As Ramadan and Eid-ul-Fitr will occur during the COVID-19 outbreak, this year will be very different for staff who are Muslim and observe fasting during Ramadan. Due to the current crisis, access to prayer facilities, quiet rooms and multi faith rooms internally and externally have been largely suspended. Social distancing will affect traditionally communal activities observed and encouraged during the month of Ramadan such a special supererogatory prayer called taraweeh, which is usually performed in congregation at a mosque. These restrictions may have a negative impact on staff wellbeing during an already challenging period.

Employers should consider the key health and wellbeing implications of COVID-19 on Muslim NHS staff who are observing Ramadan and how they can best support them during this time. NHS England and NHS Improvement have worked in partnership with the NHS Muslim Network and British Islamic Medical Association (BIMA) to provide dedicated guidance for employers on the impact of COVID-19 and social distancing on Muslims. This includes advice for line managers and supervisors who are supporting NHS staff observing fasting throughout the month of Ramadan. 

For more information, see our guidance on supporting staff during Ramadan 2020.

Social stigma associated with COVID-19

This guidance on preventing and addressing stigma associated with COVID-19 has been created by EPI- WIN, the WHO Information Network for Epidemics.  It includes information on:

  • the impact
  • advice on language
  • communication tips and messages
  • what you can do to stop social stigma. 

Supporting staff to speak up

A joint statement from the the National Guardian's Office (NGO) and the Care Quality Commission (CQC) thanks NHS staff for their efforts in tackling the COVID-19 pandemic, and reiterates the importance of creating cultures which allow staff to speak up so that organisations can continue to learn from what works well and what does not.

The CQC website and the NGO's website provide information and guidance for health and care staff about how to speak up. The NGO maintains the freedom to speak up directory, which has the contact details for the freedom to speak up guardian in each NHS trust.

Our raising concerns pages provide information for employers to consider when developing local speak up arrangements, guidance for line managers on how to support staff when a concern has been raised, and answers to frequently asked questions when raising concerns in the NHS.



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