Supporting health and wellbeing at work report

A report looking into doctors' experiences with occupational support services. Focusing on the issues that doctors face and challenges confronting the wider NHS workforce.

Location: UK
Audience: All doctors
Updated: Tuesday 15 June 2021
NHS Structure Article Illustration

It is vital that the health and wellbeing of NHS staff is prioritised.

Keeping doctors healthy will have important benefits for the NHS by improving staff engagement, reducing costs associated with absence and turnover and improving patient outcomes.

Key findings of the report

Quality of care is paramount

The NHS has to ensure that the health and wellbeing of the workforce is supported on an individual and systemic level to ensure the highest quality patient care.

NHS staff sickness absence rates are double the national average 

This places major burdens on the NHS and staff in terms of cost, continuity of care and overwork where long working hours are widespread. On top of which, doctors frequently attend work in ill health.

Equal access to support services is critical

Doctors are under very specific pressures and support services across the country are disjointed, giving varied levels of support in different areas. Any good practice is rarely shared. In summary, there is an inequality of access to health and wellbeing services for doctors that must end.

Doctors are not aware of support services 

Our research found that only half of doctors were aware of any services that support them with physical and mental health problems. While nearly one in five said that no services were available, one third said that they did not know if they were. In addition, only 27% were very or quite confident that if their physical or mental health was suffering due to work their employer would provide help and support.

Employers can do more to prioritise support

Employers should build a supportive culture, tackle the stigma around accessing support services and ensure that services are holistic and comprehensive. 


Our recommendations

Better access to occupational health services
  • Staff should have access to a specialist-led occupational health (OH) service.
  • Occupational health services should be free, comprehensive and meet individual needs.
  • Access to OH services should be consistent across the country and easily accessible for all doctors.
  • Staff need to have timely access to assessments to prevent delays in training.
  • OH services need to be adequately funded in order for staff to deliver high-quality services.
  • It is vital that OH services are confidential to avoid discouraging staff from seeking early help and advice.
  • There needs to be better funding and support for doctors with disabilities who need specialist equipment to do their jobs.
Improve health and wellbeing support services
  • Trusts/health boards should review current funding and commissioning of health and wellbeing services to ensure that they meet the needs of the medical workforce.
  • There needs to be sufficient flexibility in any service to accommodate doctors’ working patterns and rest times (for example, access to gym, canteen, 24 hour access to food).
  • Health and wellbeing support services must be more widely promoted by NHS organisations (for example via inductions).
  • There are pockets of good practice where trusts have worked with staff to develop health and wellbeing strategies, this learning should be shared.
  • In order to reduce the risk of fatigue, employers should implement the standards in the BMA fatigue and facilities charter
Support line managers

Line managers should be supported to handle health and wellbeing issues, through training and education opportunities.

Building a culture of care
  • Staff health and wellbeing improvement strategies need to be holistic and bring together the provision of OH services, wider non-OH health and initiatives that will have a positive impact on staff health.
  • To ensure that health and wellbeing strategies meet their needs, staff should be encouraged to be involved in their design and implementation.
  • In order to encourage staff to access services at an early stage of their condition, employers should tackle the stigma that surrounds accessing support services and foster a no-blame culture.
  • Employers must give priority to staff health and wellbeing and provide leadership on the subject.
  • Trusts/health boards should have appropriate health and wellbeing policies in place, including NICE guidance, and ensure that these are consistent.
  • NHS organisations would benefit from collecting and analysing information about the extent and causes of staff ill-health in order to monitor improvement.