SW Ambulance Service: an award winning ‘joined up’ wellbeing approach

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In 2015, the South Western Ambulance Service NHS Foundation Trust (SWASFT) set up an inhouse wellbeing service, the Staying Well Service, to support all its employees with every aspect of their wellbeing. This came on the back of the acknowledgement that, in order to thrive in these often stressful, life–saving and traumatic roles, employees need support themselves.

 It also followed indicators that the Trust’s approach to wellbeing needed some improvement to ensure colleagues felt supported, empowered and had fast track access to specialist counselling and therapies.

Moving from reactive to proactive

“We decided as an organisation we needed to do something different because it was the right thing to do and the staff wellbeing service started as a reactive service. We then wanted to ensure that our people are proactively provided with support and opportunities to enhance their wellbeing to help them truly thrive, inside and outside of work,” says Lauren Dunn, Head of Wellbeing, Occupational Health and Freedom to Speak Up Guardian (pictured, left).

The service has changed dramatically since 2015. While, due to the nature of the job, there will always be a reactive element to employee wellbeing, the service overall is much more preventative. The team headcount has jumped accordingly, from a team of two to 14 working in the wellbeing space.

Joined up approach

One particular aspect that the service has been praised for, and indeed has won an award for, is its ‘joined up’ approach. Dunn is a great believer in the interrelated nature of the various pillars of wellbeing:

“We include all aspects of wellbeing in our remit because we know, for example, that a decline in physical wellbeing will likely have an impact on an individual’s ability to do their role effectively, which will in turn have an impact on relationships and social wellbeing, which will link to declining mental wellbeing including lowered motivation and self worth. Similarly, someone’s financial situation might have an impact on their mental wellbeing and physical wellbeing too,” she says.

To tackle the complexity of this wellbeing mix Dunn has created a very broad offering of wellbeing support in the hope that all employees can find something that “works for them”. And, given the huge numbers of employees accessing services, it seems that they are indeed finding services that work for them: last year the service received just over 1600 referrals.

42% jump in referrals

Additionally, since 2020 the service has seen a 42% increase in referrals within the 6,000 strong workforce.

“There are many factors that influence the increase in referrals, it doesn’t necessarily mean that we have a workforce that is ‘more unwell’ but that due to the reputation, psychological safety and positive word of mouth around the support that is available, this increase has occured,” says Dunn.

Dunn is particularly proud of the fact that many male employees are accessing the services which she sees as a “fantastic indicator” of how the organisation is continuing to tackle stigma, especially around mental health, which men can typically find it harder to talk about.

So what does SWASFT offer in terms of services?

It has a standard offering of an Employee Assistance Programme and a fast track physiotherapy service, as well as a vast array of other types of support, some impressively progressive and innovative.

“We have many different initiatives on offer as standard through the Staying Well Service, but where the offerings don’t meet the needs of our people, individuals can also apply for funding to our alternative therapy fund for an intervention, therapy or alternative therapy that will improve their wellbeing,” says Dunn.

Alternative therapies

For instance, in terms of physical health, it funds activities like cold water therapy and green therapy, and it’s currently trialling a physical health app which gives out rewards for physical activity. Its offerings are detailed in a ‘health and wellbeing catalogue’ which also contains vouchers for things like Slimming World, gym passes and dietician appointments. There are also several different options available when it comes to counselling therapy.

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Given the traumatic nature of some of the scenes and situations that employees experience, the service also has its own inhouse dedicated trauma therapist, Paul Edwards, who is a Emotional Freedom Techniques (EFT) practitioner.

“Our workforce attend really traumatic jobs, or listen to traumatic phone calls, or will be reviewing something associated with a traumatic job, day in, day out. The amount of impact he’s had on our people is unbelievable,” says Dunn. “I get feedback every week, emails from people who were sceptical saying they didn’t think his treatment was going to work for them and that in fact it’s actually been life changing.”

Trauma informed approach

One example is an employee who could no longer drive over a certain part of motorway because she attended a road traffic accident there and, so, was off work, because that formed part of her commute. Following sessions of EFT with Paul, she was able to take the motorway. 

SWASFT uses a TRiM approach  – trauma risk management – which assesses an individual’s trauma symptoms after an event to gauge whether intervention is required. If it is, the service has a range of therapies including counselling with Edwards, but also EMDR and CBT referrals.

“If symptoms remain quite persistent at 30 days, that’s when we do an onward referral,” says Dunn.

Link to DEI

Wherever possible, too, wellbeing activity is linked to the DEI agenda too. For instance, activity is supported and tapped into by relevant networks and forums and inclusivity is always front of mind for Dunn:

“Take the physical health app we’re currently working on – it’s not just about counting steps, it is accessible for all, inclusive of those with mobility issues who can count distance using, for example, wheelchairs rather than steps.”

Dunn’s aspiration is that SWASFT provides the righ support, by the right intervention, at the right time. But also, as she says, she’s keen to encourage employees to

develop their own “preventative and proactive” approach to their wellbeing.

“Whilst SWASFT provides them with the opportunities to do this,” she says. “I truly want our people to be happy and safe inside and outside of work, to enable them all to thrive.”

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