Mind The Gap – How Are We Supporting Supportive Staff In Health Care

Hello my name is Trish McEvoy. And I am an Operations Manager for the Adult complex needs service at the Tavistock and Portman NHS Foundation Trust.

I want to talk about what it’s been like working in a supportive capacity to clinical services during this pandemic, and the experiences of many of my colleagues and I working in these roles.

Of course it’s been an incredibly challenging time for all in health care, more so for our colleagues in acute Trusts dealing hands on with patient care.

However, supportive services have also experienced challenges, seeing an increase in email traffic, workloads, working hours, technical hitches with remote working, as well as an increase in clinical governance issues and along with that; growing anxiety and frustration with the uncertainty the situation fosters. And this without the usual outlets to relieve those emotions, such as networking with colleagues in the office, going for a drink and a meal with friends, or that quick chat in the kitchen and coffee break. Or even that much deserved weekend away to see family.

Staff supporting clinical services in an administrative way have seen their workloads increase to include adding clinical notes to patients’ records, sending Zoom links to patients, and explaining some of the nuances of the technology to both patients and clinical staff. They have been the lynch pin to ensuring that trainees and honorary clinicians have what is needed to start their training and clinical work, repeatedly providing instruction, guidance and signposting to those needing it.

We have found ourselves getting more involved with some of the health records tasks that would normally fall within the remit of clinical responsibility, with clinical staff not being present in clinic for various reasons over long periods. While also taking on new admin tasks like Covid-19 screening calls to patients attending for face to face appointments to help protect the clinic and staff members.

Added to that, having to sensitively respond to patients who had naturally become more anxious due to lockdown, as well as handling distressing duty calls from patients, sometimes from home, without the support of colleagues readily available.

So it’s felt even more important to provide something for this group of staff, to help manage the increased stress levels that many had reported feeling, in the same way as had been provided to clinical staff.

In talking to staff, it was clear that they had not accessed the resources provided, to help with their wellbeing, with some stating that they had not been able to find the time to read anything, as it would take away time they needed to just get through requests, or emails. They just felt that they couldn’t spare the time to stop and think about themselves.

I’ve found it useful to increase contact, adding regular 1:1s and weekly group meetings or informal check-ins; just to create opportunities to talk to colleagues and find out how they are doing, even beyond the world of work. And thinking about the time pressures many have mentioned, sharing links to infographics on wellbeing that are generally quicker and easier to engage with.

But I found myself thinking ‘what else can we tangibly do to fill the gap for this staff group?’. Perhaps replacing a little of what has been lost; as well as what positive learning we can take from these experiences to add to working practices beyond the pandemic. 

Firstly, I would say it’s really important to listen to this staff group and find out what they are feeling, and what the barriers are for them accessing support for their mental health.  And then to involve them in conversations about what is needed in terms of support for their wellbeing.

Keeping Well NCL have gone some way to doing that in planning a webinar and panel discussion, set to be held in early summer to better understand the experiences of this staff group across NCL. So I do hope you can join us for that once the date is set.

I’ve also been thinking about what we can learn from what private industry is doing in this space for their workforce and make it ‘the norm’ for the supportive workforce post the pandemic. We’ve likely heard of ‘duvet days’, ‘dress down Fridays’, and flexible working, and huge organizations like Citi Bank have introduced ‘no Zoom Fridays’, to help relieve some of the pressures. 

Granted not all of these can be easily adopted into the public sector healthcare workforce.  But can we promote initiatives on an organizational level that specifically target challenges this staff group face, like ‘no email Mondays’ and continued flexible working from home options across all pay Bands? These could be in addition to tangible efforts like lunch time yoga sessions, Zoom common rooms for chats and coffee breaks, or regular wellbeing infographic circulars that encourage staff to be mindful of taking their breaks.

Trish McEvoy is an Operations Manager for the Adult Complex Needs Service at the Tavistock and Portman NHS Foundation Trust. In this podcast she talks about what it’s been like working in a supportive capacity to clinical services during the pandemic, and the experiences of herself and many of her colleagues working in these roles.