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Dr Muiris Houston, Occupational Medicine Specialist and Clinical Strategist, HSE; and Mr Morgan Lucey, National Lead with the HSE employee assistance programme (EAP), outline the value of the EAP in supporting staff during the pandemic
Covid-19 hasn’t been easy on anyone. And it is probably fair to say that healthcare workers have borne the brunt of the pandemic, facing its effects in the workplace every day while also grappling with extensive challenges in their private lives. This reality is one of the drivers for a refreshed employee assistance programme (EAP) in the HSE.
The EAP is a free, confidential, and independent service for all HSE staff. It is there to support employees who are experiencing personal or work-related issues that may be affecting their mental health, their job performance or home life. The EAP is a key component of the HSE Workplace Health and Wellbeing Unit (WHWU).
All of us can experience challenging or stressful periods in our life, both at work and at home. Healthcare workers are no different and the many months on the frontline of the Covid-19 pandemic, in particular, have taken a toll on health service staff.
Talking to someone who understands can really help. The HSE EAP service is a specialist staff support service, which keeps the highest standard of confidentiality. It is open to all staff and they can self-refer to the programme at any time. Staff do not need permission or approval.
The HSE EAP provides a suite of services including:
- Confidential counselling.
- Consultation to managers on staff wellbeing and psychosocial issues.
- Critical incident stress management (CISM) response – individual and group support and pre-incident training.
- Workshops on staff wellbeing issues.
The HSE EAP service operates a hybrid model for staff counselling, where staff have the choice to attend the internal service or our newly-appointed external counselling partner, Inspire Workplaces. Our external service provider also offers staff access to an online support platform.
The support hub provides 24/7 instant access to a range of digitalised EAP support resources, including information and guidance on a wide range of wellbeing topics, screening tools and mood trackers.
These support services are available to our employees in the right place, at the right time. The support hub gives participants access to a range of resources as well as sign-posting to support and intervention through online self-assessment.
How busy has the programme been since the emergence of Covid-19?
From April 2020 to the end of November 2020, a total of 6,270 staff were supported by the HSE EAP counsellors. The counsellors held 3,236 sessions and took 3,460 manager consultation calls. Ms Ann Callanan, a counsellor with the programme since 2006, urged HSE staff struggling with the stresses brought on or exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic to get in contact.
She highlighted the value of speaking to a counsellor familiar with the unique pressures of working in the health service.
“Having a confidential space within the organisation is really important to staff,” according to Ms Callanan.
“A regular piece of feedback that we receive is that staff value the validation they get from being heard, by someone who understands the workings of the HSE. I think we give staff the opportunity to be heard, without having to shout.
“I feel that the emotional burden that HSE staff carry with them, because of the nature of their work, often goes unnoticed. A service like EAP is key to shining a light on this, and supporting staff to prioritise their wellbeing, while they are taking care of others.
I focus a lot on self-care, which, on the surface sounds like a great idea. But the reality is that self-care is hard work. It’s difficult to prioritise it and it’s difficult to maintain it. Accessing our service gives staff the space to think about the challenges they experience, and can provide a framework for making it happen.”
Ms Callanan explained that one-to-one counselling sessions with staff make up the core part of her day.
“Staff seek support for a lot of different reasons. Some come for support
with personal problems, such as relationship difficulties, or bereavement, general anxiety. Others come for work-related issues such as bullying, work stress, grievances or feeling overwhelmed with life,” said the counsellor.
“Another part of our work is supporting teams of staff following traumatic events, such as the sudden death of a patient, or an assault at work. This involves CISM debrief sessions, which give staff the space to process the event from an emotional perspective and reflect on how it impacted on them. We try to normalise their reactions and support them to look after themselves.”
HSE staff can dial 0818 327 327 to access the EAP from anywhere in the country. The EAP counselling service is available 24/7. Don’t be afraid to pick up the phone – our trained EAP counsellor therapists are ready to listen and help.
For more information and to access our online hub of resources, log onto www.hse.ie/EAPandme