Evaluation of Create+ : A Lime Arts and Health Wellbeing project with NHS staff off sick, returning to work, or experiencing high stress and anxiety
The NHS Employers Staff Survey in 2021 showed that 44% of NHS workers reported feeling unwell because of work-related stress ("burnout") in the last 12 months (NHS Employers, 2022). It is clearly acknowledged that the NHS workforce are burnt-out and leaving in high numbers, partly due to impact of the covid pandemic on their mental and physical health. Retaining staff within the NHS is therefore a high priority. There is a growing evidence-base showing the benefits of engagement with art and culture. Research has shown that actively taking part in arts or cultural activities can improve people's mental and physical health.
Create+ is a creative wellbeing programme for staff at Manchester University NHS Foundation Trust (MFT) that uses creative activity as a tool to improve self-care, wellbeing and resilience at work. The programme is for MFT staff who are returning to work after sick leave, and staff who are in work but who need some 'time out' due to high levels of stress/anxiety.
Meaningful Measures Ltd has recently worked with the award winning Lime Arts Studio who run Create+, to evaluate and understand the impact of their programme supporting NHS staff.
An anonymous survey to determine stress levels, wellbeing levels and feelings about the workplace was filled in before and after 6 art workshops. Measure Yourself Concerns and Wellbeing® (MYCaW®) forms were also completed before and after the workshop. Three focus groups with participants and the artists leading the workshops enabled us to explore the participant and practitioner experience more fully.
Findings from our evaluation:
● 97.3% of participants rated the Create+ course as excellent or good.
● A statistically significant reduction in Perceived Stress Scores and improvement in ONS4 measures of wellbeing. A statistically significant improvement in participants MYCaW® concerns was seen after the programme of 6 art workshops. The most frequent MYCaW® concern stated was anxiety and stress. Some concerns were reported as "feeling anxious, unsafe and nervous to attend work", "dealing with feeling overwhelmed" and "not being able to leave upsetting things at work".
● Participants were asked about the drivers and drainers associated with their work. Drivers included being able to support patients and working as a team "making patients happy", "maintaining high standards". Drainers included resources and staffing shortages, working in a toxic workplace and other negative workplace issues "overwhelming amount of work", "unrealistic expectations", "long days", "not feeling appreciated and valued".
● 45% of participants at follow up felt that the Create+ programme had made them want to stay in their job and fewer people were intending to leave their role in the next 12 months. Participants said it "Gave me confidence to give it a go again, when I was about to quit before returning" and "I was in the process of changing jobs when I did the course, however, it made my return to work process much easier". This is a crucial finding when there are so many vacancies in the NHS and staff are leaving at a high rate.
● Reasons for benefiting from the workshops included having more confidence, making it easier to return to work, having something positive to focus on, and creating a space where they could take stock and reflect on the balance of time spent at work and at home. Furthermore, participants enjoyed being able to build up friendships with other staff who could understand their situation.
"It's an amazing calm space to be in where all of my worries and stresses have gone. I'd love to do it again and have recommended it to other staff members and will continue to do so"
"So I think this has made me go, you're one person…take a step back, you can't, you can't do everything. And it's allowed me to kind of just restructure my coping mechanisms and yeah, just take a little bit of a reset button to press and take that step back"
● Wider benefits of Create+ were noted by several participants who took up creative activities outside of the workshops and continued to do these after the 6 workshops ended. Moreover, many participants also encouraged their friends and family to do creative activities with them, hence providing a health prevention element to Create+.
Meaningful Measures has made some key recommendations such as that data from this Create+ pilot should be fed into national programmes of NHS staff wellbeing, as a valuable and inexpensive approach to supporting staff back to work or retaining staff in the workplace, as a preventative measures to staff who are extremely stressed going off sick.
You can read all our recommendations and full evaluation details in the report.