On the 3rd of January 2024, Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Staff Support Hub announced that they would be closing from the 31st of March 2024.
Through the past 3 years, the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Staff Support Hub have offered free and confidential well-being support to all healthcare staff and volunteers, regardless of their role or organisation. It has served as a space that prioritises mental and emotional well-being, ensuring those offering care and health services receive the care they deserve for a healthier healthcare community. Arising from the pandemic, the central NHS could see the mental and physical impact COVID was having on the staff and other frontline services such as the Voluntary and Community Sector (VCS). Each Integrated Care System received funding to set up a Staff Support Hub within their area.
What does this mean for the voluntary and community sector (VCS)?
As a member of the Integrated Care System (ICS) and a valued partner, those groups and organisations offering health and well-being services had access to a wide range of support through the hub. Many in VCS have accessed a number of the services, which has, in turn, given many groups that added value, offering an extended healthcare offer to their staff and volunteers. I attended webinars, courses, and sessions around different health and well-being development elements. When I had a loss in the family, the hub was able to offer support. I am personally grateful for this service.
However, many in the VCS would not have access to this service. For some, it would have been an unawareness that this support existed. Perhaps a learning point from the past few years stems from how services like this are communicated with the VCS sector. Was it that the language was too NHS-focused, that we didn’t promote it widely enough, or that the messages were unclear to spell out who could access such support? This could be the first time you read about it and didn’t even know there was a dedicated page on our website. Either way, I would be interested in knowing more about what learning we can take from this project and getting it out to those groups.
Sadly, others wouldn’t have access due to eligibility, as this service was only for those working or volunteering in the frontline within the health or care system. That is understandable, as this service was built for those dealing with the communities during and after COVID-19. But that doesn’t take away the need for frontline staff who have seen how the pandemic has impacted communities in other ways and how this has recently become a cost-of-living crisis. What for those groups? Is there a conversation around a need for broader support for these groups? If you’re reading this and saying yes, there is a need, then please let me know. Support Cambridgeshire cannot advocate on your behalf without the stories and evidence behind us.
In COVID-19, the VCS struggled in frontline roles, as many volunteers and staff worked extra hours and took on more than they ever expected. However, the more significant challenge for the sector is the cost-of-living crisis. Here, we are seeing an increase in need, a broader spectrum of the types of needs being displayed and an increase in feelings of hopelessness, which can and has led to an increase in antisocial behaviour. On top of that, our sector nationally is seeing a decrease in certain types of funding along with a change in volunteering style, leaving groups unable to offer the same level of services that those engaging with them need. This is having a more significant impact on our sector than the pandemic ever did. While I acknowledge what we see in VCS in those health and care settings, we can sometimes be forgotten and possibly not seen. This has meant that the mental and physical health of frontline staff and volunteers for the VCS is even more critical than ever, as these services are needed to keep groups and organisations running.
If the hub is being used, then why is it being closed when it is needed even more than before?
The funding from the central government was only for two years, but the impact was seen, and Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Integrated Care Board was able to move resources around to fund it for a further year. This was highlighted in the statement put out;
‘With the support of our ICB, we have managed to keep the Hub going for a year longer than most Hubs in England.’
However, there has been a decision that the service can no longer be funded. Saying that I find it hard to believe that with the impact it has had in the broader health and care communities and the current state of the NHS, with the need to keep people in jobs, it would not be replaced by something. Whatever the ICB comes back with, that support should be open to aspects of the VCS. Perhaps we can learn from those communication challenges this time and make sure that all who can access do so.
Why is this so important?
For many voluntary and community groups and charities, the trustees would love to offer their staff and volunteers counselling, well-being workshops, or even lunchtime Pilates sessions. To recognise those individuals’ importance and help them continue offering fantastic support to their communities. Sadly, many funders hardly allow core funding to keep the heating going, let alone a cost of well-being on those staff and volunteers. So, the Staff Support Hub has supplemented and supported aspects of the VCS that would never have received that support free of charge otherwise, increasing staff retention, giving organisations another ‘perk’ of working for them and essentially keeping them open.
This impacts health services, as more social prescribers point individuals towards the VCS services. As one health professional once said, “What is the point of all these travel agents if there are no holidays to sell?” This means we need to keep services open; therefore, the health and well-being of staff and volunteers are vital. The health of our communities is everyone’s concern, including the VCS. Without the VCS, more individuals would be accessing frontline care, such as GPs and AnE, the general health of our communities would decrease and this whole idea of ‘waiting well’, which many in health talk about as a way of dealing with the crisis around waiting list would not be possible.
What next for the Staff Support Hub?
During the next three months, they have put in place a closing plan, which can be seen in their January newsletter; however, they have highlighted the following changes before closing:
- From the beginning of January, they will not be making any more referrals for counselling.
- From the end of January, they will not be able to accept any new referrals for their Working Well Pathway.
- From the end of February, their peer support pathway will stop accepting referrals.
What comes next has not yet been announced, but as soon as Support Cambridgeshire are made aware, we will ensure it is communicated through our challenges, so make sure if you are not already linked to us through Twitter/X or received our updates, you subscribe today.