The NHS Counter Fraud Authority (NHSCFA) is a special health authority charged with identifying, investigating and preventing fraud and other economic crime within the NHS and wider health group. In 2019, a group of committed employees volunteered their time to set up a dedicated mental health and wellbeing group, with the aim of looking after the NHSCFA’s people. However, the team soon realised three things: one, that they could do more effective work if they had a proper plan and could measure their effectiveness; two, that none of them had the depth and level of knowledge required to develop wellbeing policies from scratch; and three, that when mental health and wellbeing policies are spearheaded by employees who already have a full-time job, it can be tough to get things off the ground. They were going to need some expert guidance. And that’s when they came across Time to Change.

George Squire, E-Learning/Digital Developer at the NHSCFA, says, “I chanced upon the Time to Change website and said, ‘They’ve already done the job for us here, we can […] put it into a proper shape rather than [making a] best guess.’”

In early 2020, with Covid-19 still lurking at the sidelines, the team put together an anonymous staff survey to gauge how their colleagues felt about mental health and wellbeing at the NHSCFA. The survey, which provided insights into topics such as what employees thought about how mental health problems were handled in their workplace, and how many employees had taken sickness days because of their mental health but given a different reason, was instrumental in the formation of the NHSCFA’s Employer Action Plan; when it was formally signed off in July 2020, the NHSCFA became an official Time to Change Pledged Employer, and its mental health and wellbeing group got to work straight away.

First, George Squire, E-Learning/Digital Developer at the NHSCFA and a member of the dedicated mental health and wellbeing group, began putting together a formal mental health policy. The group had already combed through the organisation’s sickness policy and found that the term ‘mental health’ was not mentioned anywhere, so when the NHSCFA became an official Pledged Employer, George sat down to draw up an additional policy dedicated solely to employee mental health and wellbeing. Among its contents are a comprehensive overview of the organisation’s principles and anti-stigma stance, and an outline of its new recruitment approach, which highlights the fact that the organisation does not discriminate against candidates with mental health problems; importantly, the policy also sets out how the organisation plans to support employees experiencing mental health problems, making it the go-to document for NHSCFA employees who are either in this situation themselves, or are working with someone who is.

The new policy was approved by HR before being sent around various other departments for comment. George was surprised by the amount of interest and feedback it received. “People were commenting and saying, ‘Please can you include this?’ […] There was a definite engagement with it, and this would be people, I guess, who had first-hand experience or who were dealing with mental health challenges.” The policy has now been approved by the leadership team, the people engagement group and the senior management team.

At the same time, the mental health and wellbeing group was utilising the organisation’s intranet to spread the word about workplace wellbeing among the NHSCFA’s approximately 170 employees. Even before the NHSCFA had signed the Pledge, the group had been writing articles on various topics around workplace wellbeing and publishing them to the organisation’s intranet – and this work continued in earnest after the Pledge-signing event. Articles discussed topics such as self-care, the organisation’s employee assistance programme, and where to go for more general help and support. Crucially, the group was also able to commission articles from members of the organisation’s senior management team. Sue Frith, CEO of the NHSCFA, wrote an article about why the Time to Change campaign was so vital, and about how her own life had been affected by friends and family experiencing mental health problems. In 2020, a total of 14 articles focusing on mental health and wellbeing were published to the intranet, and the engagement they received reflected how welcome this new focus was among the NHSCFA’s employees: each article averaged 120 to 150 views, with some receiving nearly 180.

 “…the advantage of the TTC approach […] is that we got everybody in our leadership team upwards, including our chief executive officer, agreeing to our plan.”

Senior management support has been vital to the NHSCFA mental health and wellbeing group’s success. Among the 12 volunteers in the group is non-executive director Martin Spencer, a signatory of the NHSCFA’s Pledge and a vocal advocate for Time to Change within the organisation. Following the CEO’s lead, other senior management figures have written articles about their personal experiences of mental health; George Squire credits their support with the high levels of engagement his group has experienced in the past six months: “[Sue Frith] set the tone from the top, which is where a lot of our culture comes from, I think […] If you see the senior people modelling certain behaviours, you’re likely to take them on board.”

In conjunction with its new mental health policy, the NHSCFA has designed some bespoke internal mental health e-learning modules and is developing additional training. The modules aim to educate participants about mental health and wellbeing issues in their workplace by, for instance, revealing how many employees took sickness leave in 2019-2020 because of mental health problems, and by highlighting the NHSCFA’s principles and values regarding workplace wellbeing – such as its commitment to being non-judgemental and breaking down stigma. Interspersed with the e-learning slides are some real-life case study videos, produced by Time to Change. Initially, the organisation plans to roll out this additional training to its management team – because, as e-learning module designer George Squire says, it’s best to start at the top: “…research and papers indicate that when you’ve got mental health issues cropping up, having a good manager in place who is comfortable with these issues and able to support the colleagues they manage makes all the difference in the world, so we want to make as much difference as we can as quickly as we can.”

So what does the future hold for the NHSCFA?

Before the pandemic hit, the mental health and wellbeing group had been holding coffee morning events that promoted workplace wellbeing; as an organisation, the NHSCFA had also delivered presentations about its employee assistance programme, to ensure that its people were well informed of the services being provided. Of course, since March 2020, many organisations have had to transition to mostly home working, which has, unsurprisingly, affected mental health awareness activities across the board. However, the group hopes to be able to reintroduce these events in 2021, and is already looking at its overall plan for the year ahead. Three Time to Change Champions have already been recruited since July 2020, and the group hopes to recruit a further two. George Squire is particularly hopeful that they can persuade more colleagues to write and share articles about their own mental health experiences, as a way of breaking down stigma in the workplace: “CFA wants to see people supported when they run into difficulties … to make [mental health] less of a taboo subject.”