Staff wellbeing was never just a pandemic issue – Sir Jim Mackey

Sir Jim Mackey profile picture

26 May 2021

Sir Jim Mackey
Chief executive
Northumbria Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust


As the vaccine rollout continues and the country moves forward on the government's roadmap out of lockdown, it can feel that attention is shifting away from coronavirus and towards a brighter future.

In some ways, this is both understandable and correct. We too must ensure that we are looking to the future, planning ahead, continuing to strive for improvement, and working hard to support patients, many of whom will have seen inevitable disruption to their health and care services since March 2020. But rest assured that we will not be distracted from the impact that the last year has had and will continue to have on our staff. Their wellbeing has long been at the forefront of our vision, with their satisfaction, as evidenced by the annual NHS national surveys, being reflected in the excellent care provided to patients and the performance of the trust as a whole. We would not have been rated outstanding twice without the engagement of our hard-working, dedicated and compassionate staff.

At Christmas, all 11,500 staff were sent a thank-you box containing gifts from local companies.

Sir Jim Mackey    Chief executive

Thanks to the efforts of our dedicated wellbeing team, new initiatives introduced during the pandemic ranged from the early response of providing fruit and vegetable grab bags to pick up on the way home after a busy shift to the development of mini markets for those hard-to-get groceries when the shelves in supermarkets were bare. At Christmas, all 11,500 staff were sent a thank-you box containing gifts from local companies, which also helped to support the local economy as all the products were bought from suppliers in Northumberland or Tyneside.

Wellbeing spaces were developed to provide a quiet, comfortable and uplifting environment for tired staff in need of a break away from the ward and attention is now turning to building walking tracks and outdoor spaces of tranquillity, so that staff can enjoy a little bit of nature. Some of these were funded and supported via Northumbria Healthcare's Bright charity, which received grants from the national COVID-19 appeal through being a member of NHS Charities Together, while others were paid for by the trust itself.

The initiatives we introduced and support we provided during the pandemic were always based on listening to our teams.

Sir Jim Mackey    Chief executive

The initiatives we introduced and support we provided during the pandemic were always based on listening to our teams, responding to that and providing what they tell us they need. The focus on communication also included a weekly letter and video sent to staff explaining what was happening from the trust management point of view and weekly survey Corona Voice enabling colleagues to raise issues, provide information, ask questions or just say how they were feeling at the time. We want the dialogue to continue because we are listening to what staff tell us.

During the first lockdown, a new website was launched to ensure all of the resources for staff were available in one place, while packs were also developed to help leaders guide their teams through those challenging times. Financial difficulties were also considered and the trust's partnership with the Northumberland Community Bank – which has been in place for more than two years and has more than 850 staff members signed up – has enabled staff to take out loans as needed during the crisis.

There was quick escalation when necessary for team-level support, hot debriefing, and referral routes to specialised psychological support when teams were under high levels of stress or encountered particularly harrowing difficulties.

Sir Jim Mackey    Chief executive

The occupational health service already played an integral role within the organisation, but there were enhancements delivered in this arena as well, including the introduction of psychological first-aid resources and sleep workshops. Meanwhile, the staff physiotherapy team continued to offer its service throughout the pandemic. There was quick escalation when necessary for team-level support, hot debriefing, and referral routes to specialised psychological support when teams were under high levels of stress or encountered particularly harrowing difficulties. The psychology and counselling team has provided structured support groups where staff could come together to talk about their experiences and gain peer support in a safe space, while also providing more specialist one-to-one therapy for those experiencing high levels of trauma.

We also recognise that staff will need to reflect and process what they have been through, which may be simply having the time to talk it through with colleagues or within their team. It may be that more structured support is required and we have the right systems and people in place to ensure it is provided. The new initiatives that were introduced because of the stresses and strains of coronavirus will not be going away where appropriate and we will always be looking at ways to enhance the comprehensive package we have in place to support our staff wellbeing.

Our people are at the heart of what we do and without keeping them well, happy and motivated, we cannot continue to provide high-quality, compassionate care for our patients.

About the author

Sir Jim Mackey profile picture

Sir Jim Mackey
Chief executive

Jim is a qualified accountant who joined the NHS in 1990. His other roles have included chief executive of NHS Improvement, interim chief executive of Northumberland Care Trust, as well as a range of director roles across NHS organisations. He has a keen interest in quality of care, especially patient and family experience, and has participated in a number of reviews and national projects, including the Dalton Review in 2014.

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