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Mind The Gap: Staff Wellbeing Agenda Doesn't Touch The Sides Of Provider Lived Experience

After being at the Compassion in Challenging Times conference in Wales (looking into Taking Care Giving Care rounds), and currently doing some work on the British Psychological Society staff wellbeing stream, I've got a handle on where the NHS is with the staff wellbeing agenda.


Let's be clear, the staff wellbeing agenda is essential. It's good it is happening and it's shocking that proper attention to such basic human needs has taken this long to surface. To hear that for some providers, getting funding to look after themselves even on this level requires facing (presumably) emotionally divorced questioning about why that should be important, is frankly astounding. In my view it unfortunately unearths an unethical shadow still lurking right in the centre of our NHS business somewhere.

But let's move on.

What the staff wellbeing agenda is not, is a place where provider lived experience of mental health problems, and the stigma and maintenance of us/them dialogue is tabled and talked about. It stops short of it and seems to leave a bit of that to Occupational Health and Employee Assistance schemes over there somewhere to 'manage'... mostly medical model 'treatment' bit, not the humans with lived experience flourishing bit, or us/them narrative impact.

As usual, lived experience of mental health problems is not 'in', it's kind of on the side, or edge, or...'something elsed'.

And yet, it is not a minority issue. It is prevalent in our provider system. It is often the reason many join mental health services so to help, whether because we've had a great experience(s) of help and want to pay that hope forward, or a poor experience(s) and want to make things better.

So, today turned into an excellent opportunity for, in fact, a gap analysis between the staff wellbeing agenda and the provider lived experience of mental health problems movement. What is happening within the well-being work just doesn't cover what I do in my workshops around lived experience. Different ingredients are important and we need to begin to have conversations about how to address this gap.

In my view, the two fields are siblings, related and potential allies. If we get compassionate, staff well-being savvy environments, perhaps we can grow cultures that are more attuned and sensitive to human need in general and perhaps (by too hopeful extrapolation?!) ones that may be less stigmatising and more open to staff when they experience mental health problems.

But who knows.

Because let's not forget that all of this is happening in services which are scythed, where people are still interviewing for their own jobs (if they are lucky) and frankly the whole system is in threat-survival mode. The ability to create and open up in threatened space is limited at best. No wonder the good efforts are getting only so far as making sure people can take breaks and drink water!

All I know, is that staff experience of breaking down (due to all sorts of life factors, more or less related to work) and navigating the inside of services when it happens is hugely variable. It ranges from the indescribably punitive to the ideosyncratically positive (utterly and shamefully dependent on the personal characteristics of who is around you in your service open to giving you a compassionate response).

I'll be talking further to the excellent Adrian Neal, Benna Waites, Andy Bradley and Brigid Bowen about this, who lead variously on the Taking Care Giving Care rounds and on compassionate mental health, it was an absolute pleasure to meet you:

To our table of NHS England services people who I sat with at the end, lets think more! I'm clear now that this discrepancy between the staff wellbeing and provider lived experience agendas will springboard the main theme of my workshop in Edinburgh on April 6th (link below). Please please come if you can as we need all brains to the tiller to steer this.

I had hoped to find a home for the lived experience agenda within the staff wellbeing agenda, but I have to say, I haven't quite. It's (some might think perilously) close, but too much is missing and needs to be done. We haven't yet got to grips with allowing our complete humanity in at the professional gates, addressing stigma, snagging internal systems, nor the idea of flourishing with lived experience. So I'm sad to say, we still need to find energy to create and sustain momentum around this. We still need to be 'revolutionarily patient' as I heard Benna say... In the LE field that could become an excellent pun. It also conjures up David Gilbert's pioneering work and book 'The Patient Revolution'

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