Published on: 17 February 2021

Chaplaincy colleagues at East Lancashire Hospitals NHS Trust have offered their ‘Listening Lounges’ to returning nursing students, to enable them to discuss their experiences of working during the pandemic in an open, relaxed and honest atmosphere.

The sessions, which are led by Chaplain and Counsellor David Anderson, alongside his therapy dog, Jasper, were set up at the beginning of the pandemic to allow staff a safe space to come together and discuss their experiences, promoting their mental health and wellbeing. Whilst continuing these sessions for staff, David and Jasper now offer these sessions to returning nursing students, to help them cope with the pressures of work and their University studies.

The Listening Lounges, which are described as a “lifeline” by staff who attend, offer a facilitated open and honest discussion with nursing colleagues, and provide access to trained therapy dog Jasper. They are held in an ‘Oasis’ room, which provides comfortable and socially distanced seating available to all staff 24 hours a day.

The sessions have highlighted trauma experienced by both staff and student nurses, for example when patients they have looked after for a considerable time have sadly passed away, or when they have had to communicate the death of a loved one to families.

The sessions also enable the Trust to offer further dedicated support to staff and students whom it would be beneficial, either through one-to-one sessions, or by referral to occupational health services.

David Anderson, Chaplain and Counsellor at ELHT, said:

 

“Our student nurses continue to play a vital role within the NHS at this difficult time and it is important that as an organisation we continue to support them as much as possible. Alongside us all, they have witnessed and experienced may difficult things, and continue to do so. For their own mental well-being it is important that they have a safe space to process these feelings and share their experience.

 

“Nationally we know that NHS staff are experiencing increased mental health difficulties and our listening lounges are just one form of support we are offering to help care for those who have given so much over the last 12 months.”

During the sessions participants share their fears and experience, and David as the facilitator follows their lead within the discussion. There is no advice within the session, simply acceptance and discussion, and participants are never mandated to attend, or forced to speak in any session.

The sessions have received high praise from both the students and staff who attend. Some comments included:

“The sessions were the first time I opened up, and the first time I properly cried. It helped me understand that we don’t always have to stay strong, it’s okay to talk and it’s okay to express our feelings.”

Another said:

“Before the session I felt like I was struggling and nobody could understand how I felt. Now I feel so much better knowing that I’m not on my own, and other people feel the same way.”

The NHS has continued to focus on safeguarding vulnerable groups and individuals during the pandemic, and these Listening Lounges have highlighted the importance of understanding potential safeguarding risks amongst staff.

Catherine Randall, Deputy Head of Safeguarding for NHS England and Improvement, said:

“We recognise it is tough for our students, so it’s important that we listen and reach out. We need to provide restorative supervision, and give the students time to heal, time to reflect and discuss their experiences. Students are the next generation of our workforce, so it’s important that we look after them.”