The COVID-19 pandemic has only served to highlight long-standing concerns over the wellbeing of NHS staff. Although there has been a gradual trend towards recognising that staff wellbeing is essential, there is significant variability with regard to what is on offer across trusts and regions, with little communication and coordination to ensure there is an adequate level of support for every staff member that needs it.
As junior doctors we appreciate that wellbeing is important not only for the individual but the system within which that individual works. The work we do as doctors can be mentally and physically exhausting and it is not something we can leave behind once we exit the hospital doors. At times we can forget to look after ourselves and instead focus on fulfilling our ‘doctor role’ – putting others’ needs and wellbeing before our own.
As an association, it is our role to advocate for the doctors that have committed to look after patients every day. We need to ensure doctors know they are valued for the work they do, and supporting their wellbeing is an important aspect of achieving this.
We set out to create the wellbeing checklist with the aim to standardise the wellbeing provisions provided by trusts, and encourage trusts to improve and implement the current wellbeing services through co-design with the staff members who use it. This has been the strategy we have used to collate the content of the checklist; gathering information from direct feedback from junior doctors as well as evidence-based recommendations from stakeholders such as the GMC, NHS Employers, HEE, etc.
Many of the things we chose to include aren't revolutionary – hot food, a safe place to rest, someone to talk to when things are overwhelming. It's important that we don't accept poor standards of wellbeing services in trusts as the norm, and instead push for changes to support doctors.
We hope the wellbeing checklist will enable a culture shift where asking for support to look after yourself is not seen as a luxury, but a basic part of what doctors can expect from their employer. Every doctor should be able to freely speak about their wellbeing needs, and we hope the checklist can be a launching pad for productive conversations between trusts and doctors to ensure wellbeing services are fit for purpose.
The checklist can serve as a set of minimum standards, as well as a method to support accountability and drive change throughout the UK.
The approach to junior doctors’ wellbeing should aim to be proactive rather than reactive. We need to ensure we have a well-supported workforce to deliver exceptional care to our patients, without this costing them their own wellbeing.
We need to make supporting junior doctors a priority, so they can, in turn, support their patients. We are excited to launch this new initiative and hope it will be an important step in ensuring standardised, reliable, and adequate support for all doctors.
Maria Vittoria Capanna is a psychiatry trainee in London