Ground-breaking Swansea Bay service shortlisted for national award

A GROUND-breaking Swansea Bay service which uses art as a platform to tackle mental health, wellbeing and trauma among staff has been shortlisted for a national award.

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Sharing HOPE complements current systems to help health board staff who have concerns or are struggling with particular issues.

It delivers a wide range of arts-based events to staff in work and community settings, including textile groups and beach sculpture days.

PICTURED: Jayne Whitney and Johan Skre lead the health board’s Sharing HOPE project.

It is an alternative way of giving staff an opportunity to express themselves through the arts, while also sharing their thoughts and hearing the views of colleagues.

While still in its infancy, the project has made big strides since its launch last September, with Sharing HOPE now looking to become the first winner of a new category at the prestigious HSJ Awards.

Jayne Whitney, quality lead for suicide and self-harm prevention, is one of two health board staff leading the project.

She said: “Evidence told us that post-Covid, we were likely to see a rise in mental health issues, substance misuse, alcohol, anxiety and depression. Sadly, within certain risk groups there was a higher risk of suicide.

“We were awarded a grant by the Baring Foundation and Arts Council of Wales as part of their Arts and Minds programme, which aims to support arts interventions to improve mental health. The funding and support moved us closer to creating Sharing HOPE.

“We looked into certain data and it showed that 40 per cent of our staff absence during a certain period was down to mental health. So this was the perfect opportunity for our health board to look at ways of tackling that.

PICTURED: Health Care Support Worker Susan Matthews took part in a textile class.

“It’s a ground-breaking project. It’s very rare that health boards get funding for suicide prevention and then decide to concentrate on its staff.

“The correlation between wellbeing and our staff affects patient care. Patients are our focus, but without our staff we can’t deliver the care and treatment they need.”

The project is delivered in three ways.

It can be staged to a certain service or department that has struggled with the experiences it had gone through in hugely challenging situations.

Staff can also access an open group, which delivers activities such as textile classes within health board sites.

A community group also allows staff to invite their family and friends along to off-site events, such as a beach sculpture day.

Johan Skre, lead for the arts and heritage team, said: “It can be hard for people to open up on what they’ve been through. People are left with that moral trauma. Through art, you don’t have to speak. You can express yourselves through art.

“In our team, we have freelance artists and an art therapist, all of whom really help us deliver this fantastic service.

“The collaboration of art and health is extremely beneficial, and that’s been evident in what we’ve seen.

“The art element of it may be a textile class or a beach sculpture day, but it gives staff space to talk. They can share as much as they feel comfortable with.

“Our staff come across a lot of trauma and we don’t want them to carry that trauma alone.

“We’ve had people open up on their thoughts on ending their life. Sharing HOPE aims to increase the amount of staff being referred to wellbeing for mental health and normalise conversations so staff realise they aren’t struggling on their own.”

He said the project encouraged more people to talk openly around the language of suicide, so staff feel comfortable if a colleague discussed how they were feeling; and know that support was available.

“The feedback we have received has been very positive and we’re glad that we can provide an alternative option for staff to express themselves around these very difficult topics.

“One of the most powerful forms of feedback we’ve had so far is that a staff member was at the point of leaving nursing. The sessions helped that staff member decide to stay after hearing the views and experiences of colleagues – they were going through the same and weren’t struggling on their own.”

The project’s success has led to it being nominated for the HSJ Patient Safety Awards, which acknowledges the hard-working teams and individuals across the UK who are continually striving to deliver improved patient care.

Sharing Hope is among 10 projects that are striving to become the first winners of the staff wellbeing initiative of the year at the event in Manchester in September.

Bethan Lavercombe, Workforce Programme Manager for Occupational Health and Staff Wellbeing, has worked closely with the Sharing HOPE team.

She said: “It’s really exciting to be nominated for an award. It highlights the good work of the project and the effect it is having on our staff.

“It’s a prestigious awards ceremony, so it’s an honour for us to be among the nominees.

“Importantly, it shows that staff wellbeing is at the forefront of our minds.”

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