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NHS staff should be given a ‘safe space’

NHS staff given a ‘safe space’ to share experiences and concerns reduces stress by half and increases their empathy to patients, a new study claims.

Doctors and nurses who regularly share the emotional, social or ethical challenges they face suffer less psychological distress and better teamwork too.

A team of British researchers examined the impact of Schwartz Centre Rounds or ‘Rounds’ on both clinical and non-clinical staff.

Staff who regularly attended the meetings to discuss their feelings halved their psychological distress from 25 per cent to 12 per cent, they discovered.

Rounds are monthly forums that offer a safe space for staff to talk to their colleagues and discuss the challenges they face in their work and its impact on them.

They were increasingly introduced following the Francis report into the poor care at the Mid Staffordshire hospitals, one of the greatest NHS scandals.

NHS staff given a ‘safe space’ to share experiences and concerns reduces stress by half and increases their empathy to patients, a new study claims

The report was undertaken by researchers at the University of Surrey, Kings College London, the University of Sheffield and The King’s Fund.

The first in-depth UK study suggested that Rounds could be a way of fostering good teamwork and improving morale amongst staff.

How was it carried out? 

Psychological wellbeing of 500 staff who attended Rounds regularly, irregularly, or not at all, were measured over eight months.  

Yet there was little change in the psychological wellbeing of staff that did not attend Rounds over this period.

Participants said attending Rounds led to greater understanding, empathy and tolerance towards colleagues and patients and positive changes in practice.


Schwartz Centre Rounds are meetings for staff to come together one a month for an hour to eat lunch or breakfast together.

During this time, they discuss the impact their job has had on their feelings and emotions.

A panel of staff who have cared for a patient or who can relate to a theme tell their stories.

This is then followed by a discussion, exploring the different issues that are causing distress among staff.

It offers time for reflection, and allows staff to vent their frustration, joy or guilt in certain situations they have been through.

Source: St Joseph’s Hospice

The first in-depth study

Lead author, Professor Jill Maben said: ‘Delivering care to patients at some of the most challenging times in their lives has an emotional impact on staff, which undoubtedly impacts on their own wellbeing and on their work. 

‘Our study is the first in the UK to demonstrate that those who regularly attend Rounds see significant benefits.

‘Their symptoms of anxiety and depression are reduced, they are better able to cope with the issues they face and have more empathy towards patients and colleagues, which undeniably has a positive impact on those in their care.

‘Given these impacts it is good to see Rounds running in over 160 organisations in the UK, particularly in light of the Francis report, which called for more compassionate patient care.

‘The challenge is for organisations to continue to invest in Rounds in resource-constrained environments.’

Unsung heroes 

Dr Cath Taylor, also involved in the study, said: ‘NHS and hospice staff are the unsung heroes of our society.

‘But the physical and emotional demands placed on them often go unnoticed, leading to high rates of burn out and people often leaving the profession.

‘Rounds are a unique organisational wide intervention that we found benefited many attendees.’ 


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