It’s no secret that working in the NHS has been tough for a lot of staff over the past couple of years.
As a result, NHS England has set out its people priorities for 2021/22 which aim to “embed more preventative health and wellbeing approaches, tackle inequalities and boost efforts to attract and retain more people”.
A focus on health and wellbeing
Both hospitals are passionate about the health and wellbeing of their colleagues, with various programmes tackling mental health, physical health, lifestyle and preventative health measures amongst many others.
An experienced runner, Andrew Picken, Health and Wellbeing Lead at Chesterfield Royal Hospital was keen to start up a workplace running group which would be of benefit to both lifestyle and mental health and attract and inspire the most sedentary colleagues.
He explains: “There’s been so many restrictions in the hospitals with social distancing, making it difficult to do classes inside a room where you had strict limits on capacity. The running group allowed us to do it outside and socially distanced.
“I’ve been working in health and wellbeing for nearly 20 years and the problem is you’re normally recycling people who are already active. There’s a place for the programme to maintain that but actually we want the people who are either sedentary in their job and then at the other end you’ve got those who are on their feet all day but still need that mental decompression space when they’re going home from work. This running group is reaching the audience we want.”
Over at Royal Derby Hospital, Wellbeing Champion Karen Swift was also in the process of setting up a running group. Admitting she still doesn’t see herself as a runner, Karen had experienced Couch to 5k herself and later became a co-leader with Jog Derbyshire group Borrowash Jolly Joggers.
Karen said: “There are loads of people at work who like to run who I come across and we always end up talking about running. So it had always been on my mind that it would be nice for a few of us to get together and run from work and get a bit of a hospital running thing going.
“I still see myself as a bit of a beginner runner even though I’ve done a fair few miles now. So my mentality is if I can do it anybody can do it. You don’t need to be going out and doing eight minute miles, it’s just getting out and doing something a bit quicker than your walking pace, that to me is a run.”
Both groups have been really well received. At Chesterfield the group is following the nine week Couch to 5k programme whilst in Derby runs are around 5k and are always adapted to meet the needs of the slowest runner. Ilkeston hospital also has a lunch time running club where they do laps round the hospital and there are some ad hoc groups runs at Burton hospital too.
Andrew said: “It’s probably been our most attended group. I would say we average eight people per class normally and in the running group we’ve had anything from between 12 and 22 participants coming along.
“The atmosphere is really jovial, we have a laugh. We clap each other and I always go back over what they’ve achieved so far and that always cheers people up.”
Karen said: “It’s generally quite chatty and sociable. There’s always a selfie to start off with. When new people come it sets the tone that it is quite lighthearted and it’s not all serious stuff. If there’s somebody who’s a bit slower or not so confident one of us will either run with them or we take it in turns to swap back with that person or do loop backs as well so everybody feels included.”
The groups have also been supported by their respective hospital charities who have provided t-shirts and other merchandise to give them their own identity and sense of belonging.
Karen said: “We’ve had a few people who’ve seen us in our t-shirts and come over to ask what we’re doing and have joined up as a result. So that’s nice for a bit of branding and people tend to wear them at park runs and races and things as well. Our wellbeing team also invited me along to the Nursing Times awards because of setting up the running club and we actually won the main award which is really good so it’s nice to get some recognition.”
Andrew said: “The charity is a massive supporter of the stuff that I do. We’ve got yellow Royal Runner t-shirts, we’ve got running bottles and the group were over the moon with that. Other colleagues see us and wave. When colleagues, patients and visitors are leaving the hospital it’s a good message of a healthy workplace and you actually see colleagues practicing what they preach in terms of keeping healthy.”
A space to share and listen
Both running groups have provided a convenient way for hospital staff to be active and de-stress.
Karen said: “I think there is a real need for just doing something outside in the fresh air. It’s a bit of downtime, a bit of headspace and just kind of being around people I suppose. It’s part of work but away from work. People will have a bit of a chat about work – not all the way round – but if you’ve had a bad day you can offload it, have a good run and then people can go home and it’s done and forgotten about.”
Andrew added: “I think it’s the convenience of having something they can access at work and crucially it’s peer to peer. Once I start the group off, I might do a bit of facilitating as group leader then I always find the group gels itself. People make connections with each other, they might meet up outside work, which a couple do and run down the canal.”
Another benefit of the groups has been the opportunity to connect and share stories with people from across the hospitals.
Andrew said: “There’s a massive social aspect to it. Since the pandemic we’ve lost those corridor chats you might have because it’s just full-on work. So giving them that space to channel some stress or whatever into a run really helps and it connects different people from different areas of the hospital.
“A lot of my role is engaging colleagues. We’ve got 4,500 colleagues so it doubles up as an engagement activity. I meet people through that running group that I wouldn’t normally meet and when we get chatting they realise what else we have in the health and wellbeing programme. It opens up that conversation.”
Karen added: “What’s been nice has been finding out what other people do in the hospital because we’re such a mixed group. They don’t know who’s a consultant, who’s a health care assistant, who’s a senior nurse. None of that matters, there aren’t those barriers there.
“It’s getting that appreciation of everybody plays a part in the whole running of the hospital which I didn’t really think about when starting the group. I just thought people would turn up and run. But everybody’s finding out a bit more about each other and what we do so it’s nice.”
Joining Jog Derbyshire
With a knowledge of Shift thanks to our previous Fit 4 Life work at Chesterfield Royal Hospital, Andrew decided to connect the group to the Jog Derbyshire network.
He said: “For me it was about linking this group so they’re part of a bigger, wider group in Derbyshire and they can feed off each other in terms of a collective group of people who are into this.”
It was Andrew’s social media posts sharing what was going on over in Chesterfield which caught Karen’s attention and the group also joined the Jog Derbyshire network.
She said: “I think Jog Derbyshire’s ethos is similar to ours. That everybody’s welcome, everyone’s encouraged, it’s not all about speed and pace. It’s more about getting out and the fitness and mental health side of it.
“It just seems like a perfect match really. It’s nice having that expertise to hand as well. They’re obviously established and know what they’re doing so it’s having people around to call on for help.”
Karen and Andrew have also worked together to widen the opportunities for staff. Those who live in Chesterfield but work in Derby are able to join the group at the Royal Hospital if this suits them better and vice versa.
Supporting the future of the groups
Both groups have lots of ideas and plans for the future, training new leaders and co-leaders through Jog Derbyshire, developing more groups and getting involved in events out in the community.
Andrew said: “We’ve just started with couch to 5k because it seems to target those people I want involved, those inactive, sedentary parts of the workforce. Because that’s where you’ll possibly get the results down the line, the return in investment when you could avoid quite a lot of absences that go through occupational health that might be lifestyle related and it can be life-changing for the individuals too.
“We’re got 4 or 5 runners training to be leaders so colleagues can lead their own groups. I’ve done this in other workplaces because sometimes if it’s ‘Sam’ leading the group who’d never run before, but did the couch to 5k last year and now she’s a run leader, it attracts and inspires the group I’m after.”
Karen said: “There are a couple of runners who I think would make great co-leaders so I’m going to see if they want to do the Jog Derbyshire training. We’re also doing a Parkrun takeover on 26th March.”