Dr Malik Ramadhan OBE, Divisional Director, Emergency Care and Trauma, at The Royal London Hospital, one of London’s largest hospitals and part of Barts NHS Trust, visited the North East to address an audience of local businesses and healthcare professionals, on the subject of psychological safety.
During the talk, Dr. Ramadhan said that providing psychological safety for employees was as important as looking after their physical wellbeing at work. He drew parallels with the provision of safety clothing, like hard hats, on building sites.
“We had employees contemplating suicide,” he told the audience, which led to the implementation of a programme to enhance the mental wellbeing of staff in the busiest A&E department in the UK. Many of them are operating in highly demanding roles under challenging circumstances, in the wake of terrorist attacks and high levels of gun and knife crime in the capital.
The event, held at BALTIC, was jointly hosted by northern law firm Ward Hadaway, Wellbeing Works and Newcastle Premier Health. The three organisations founded the Health and Wellbeing Group, to identify and share successful health and wellbeing initiatives with employers in the North East.
Dr Ramadhan was joined by Hamish Moore, Chief Executive of Wellbeing Works and Alison Corner, Employee Engagement Manager at Northumbrian Water. The event was attended by 100 delegates from regional NHS trusts, charities and businesses.
Hamish Moore began working with The Royal London Hospital after they received an ‘Inadequate’ rating from the Care Quality Commission (CQC) in 2015. Research by the hospital revealed that a significant number of its staff felt undervalued and unsafe, both physically and mentally, and in some extreme cases, suicidal.
Talking about his work supporting organisations, Hamish Moore said; “Protecting your workforce from avoidable psychological harm is a crucial way of enhancing their wellbeing. Think about how your leaders are trained to look at risks. We want people to be in the best state of mind to function optimally. We have to think about psychological safety in the round. Understanding this area can help with minimising errors, mistakes and accidents at work and reduces absence and labour turnover.”
Dr Ramadhan agrees; “I’ve become a huge advocate of psychological safety. The CQC report that rated us ‘Inadequate’ in 2015 was a huge shock. I questioned what went wrong. Our staff were under a lot of pressure for a variety of reasons – many of them in abnormal circumstances, including a series of high profile terror attacks with mass casualties.
“The effect of our ‘Inadequate’ rating had a huge impact. We couldn’t recruit staff and the staff we had were not coping, psychologically. They are dealing with the victims of extreme violence every day, and often operating under physical threat themselves. So we engaged Wellbeing Works. I was highly sceptical to begin with, we had a ‘suck it up’, mentality, but it’s not how it has to be. Looking after the psychological wellbeing of your staff is as important as their physical wellbeing.”
“We started with a staff wellbeing survey. It was alarming – staff were telling us they were thinking about harming themselves. They didn’t feel valued. They didn’t have lockers to protect their belongings, the doors were broken at the back of the department and people were wandering in off the street. People didn’t feel physically or psychologically safe, so we set about fixing that.”
Dr Ramadhan continued; “The survey told us how people were feeling, and we empowered them to become part of the solution. It’s not about the odd yoga session. It’s about understanding the fears, worries and pressure points and putting in place a range of measures to address them. There has to be buy in from the top, and ownership by individuals and teams.”
Two years after their ‘Inadequate’ rating, the Royal London Hospital was rated as ‘Good’ by the CQC and won an award for Emergency Department of the Year from the Royal College. It was a huge turnaround and Dr Ramadhan puts a large part of it down to improving employees psychological safety.
Alison Corner, Employee Engagement Manager at Northumbrian Water also discussed protecting the mental wellbeing of staff at one of the largest employers in the region. She gave insight into the implementation of mental health first aiders within the business, and some of the lessons the organisation continues to learn.
Alison said; “It’s important to set boundaries for the recruitment of mental health first aiders. We’ve been clear about the fact that they’re not professional councillors, they’re there to signpost people to services. We offer support to our first aiders after their training. We felt this was really important because it’s a tough role, and sometimes involves really challenging conversations. You can’t just train these individuals and walk away, we need to make sure the programme is actually working for everyone. It’s successful, but we need to make sure we collect data, monitor and put in place the right interventions where needed.”
Jamie Gamble is Joint Head of Employment at Ward Hadaway. He said; “We set up the Health and Wellbeing Group to allow employers in the North East to come together to improve workplace health and wellbeing by sharing successful health and wellbeing initiative. We want to spread best practice and the latest thinking, and demonstrate the tangible benefits of investing in health and wellbeing initiatives. Dr Ramadhan is a leader in his field and provided unique insights into the benefits of investing in the psychological safety of colleagues. His talk was illuminating.”