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What can be done to support staff wellbeing in primary care? In conversation with Caroline Rollings


Jordan Reid sat down with Caroline Rollings, wellbeing lead for the National Association of Primary Care, to find out about the work she’s been doing to support staff wellbeing in primary care.

The challenges facing primary care are well documented; demand for services far outstrips clinical capacity, there are workforce shortages and ongoing pressure to improve access and patient outcomes. As in many other parts of the health and care system, staff in primary care are under significant and unrelenting pressure, and this is translating into staff leaving, reducing their hours or retiring earlier than they would have done.

But what does this look like and feel like for those working in primary care?

‘There is a real problem at the moment with chronic and destructive workload,’ says Caroline. ‘What I mean by chronic is it is impossible to get on top of the workload, ever, anymore, which is a really hard thing to deal with. By destructive I mean that staff come in earlier and earlier, you go home later and later – and I mean, really late. There’s no time for family life or parenting or your relationships.’ Unsustainable working conditions ultimately lead to stress, burnout and poor job satisfaction. 71 per cent of GPs say that their job is ‘extremely’ or ‘very stressful’ and only 24 per cent of GPs are ‘extremely’ or ‘very satisfied’ with practising medicine.

'What I mean by chronic is it is impossible to get on top of the workload, ever, anymore, which is a really hard thing to deal with.'

‘And at the same time there’s the pressure of not being able to refer your patients to the care that they need. Being at the receiving end of so much negativity from the press and the general public, because of course they’re not getting the care they think they need, and it’s getting worse by the day.’ It’s not just GPs, it’s really important to say that. It’s anybody working in the NHS – the ones I know most about are in general practice.’

So, what does supporting people’s wellbeing look like?

For Caroline, this is about giving people the tools they need to look after themselves and deal with the challenges they face. ‘It’s about assisting people to thrive at home and at work,’ says Caroline. ‘I think the important preface to that is we’re not saying you should be more resilient. We’re saying that the systems need to change but at the same time, we want to be able to support people now, and that’s what we’re doing.’

'What we’re trying to support them in doing, and making it become a regular part of their lives, is self-care.'

Caroline has been running a range of wellbeing courses to support professionals to look after themselves in this really challenging context. ‘Some people say, well, you know, there’s no point running a wellbeing course that helps people feel good for half an hour. But actually, I think if we can support somebody to feel better now, we’re giving them skills which they can carry on using  to feel better or look after themselves better, that’s really important. Lots of people who work in the NHS are the kind of people who just give and give and give. What we’re trying to support them in doing, and making it become a regular part of their lives, is self-care. We've had positive feedback about this work. I'm excited to see how it goes moving forward’ .

What do you love most about your work?

‘I love doing the courses and one-on-one work because really, you know, helping somebody to learn how to look after themselves better and change how they feel I think is really worthwhile.’

What are your tips for anyone who is wanting to look after their own wellbeing, in this really challenging time for the health and care system?

‘My personal tip is self-care time – make it become a habit, even if that is just going out for a walk. Getting out and breathing and living in the present moment is key to helping us feel better. And not being afraid to share, and to listen. That’s really important.’

And what can leaders in primary care think about when it comes to supporting their teams?

‘I think the most important thing is the culture of a practice; Do people feel that they’re heard, that they’re valued and that they can make a difference? The more we listen to each other and I mean really listen and value each other, we can actually get through an awful lot together. That’s why vulnerable leadership is so important, where leaders have the courage to share their journey. What that does is empower everyone else to do that – that’s how you build a strong team.’