As I mentioned in my previous blog (part 3), the number of staff using the SISOS calm zone as a safe space to take time out was surprising because of the sheer volume and also the average time it was used for (15 minutes).
Certain factors contribute to the success of a safe space: management buy-in, location and, to a degree, ambiance. At Chase Farm Hospital, we have been fully supported locally and at a trust level. However, in any organisation there will always be people who are averse to change.
In this blog I will share with you some of the negative experiences I encountered, because anyone thinking of setting up a similar initiative needs to be aware that it is not always plain sailing and unfortunately not everyone sees the need to support staff. I will also share with you how SISOS is evolving to meet our staff's needs.
On a couple of occasions when myself or other key listeners have been in the process of supporting staff in the SISOS calm zone, there has been a knock on the door. This knock speaks far louder than you or I ever could. The knock in it’s intensity says, "I disapprove". These occasions are rare but they do happen. One comment I overheard was, "if you can’t take the heat you shouldn’t be here". My answer to this attitude is onwards and upwards.
The location of the room is in it’s favour because it isn’t isolated and is easily accessible without the need to change into or out of scrubs. This makes it available to other departments and also to the support staff, such as chaplaincy who visit us fairly frequently when we request. This clearly has had a positive effect on take-up.
The room itself is simply furnished and is in sharp contrast to the clinical environment. A small windowless store room, triangular in shape, has been transformed into a sanctuary of calm and psychological safety. The makeover consisted of a woodland scene wall mural, a Himalayan salt lamp, a reclining chair, a small side table, a coffee table and two regular chairs.
I’m frequently asked, "Can we use the calm zone as a prayer room?" The answer is yes, because we must aim to support staff in their working environment and, provided one group or another doesn’t claim the room as their own, then why not? None of us can know what someone else’s journey has been like. When we put on our shoes and leave our homes to come to work we also put on our professional fronts often masking our private lives. This became very apparent to me in the first week and is shaping how the framework for SISOS is evolving and the breadth of support we are now providing.
Originally set up to provide emotional support for staff centrally or peripherally involved in safety incidents, we recognised that these incidents are fortunately rare. However, you don’t need to be involved in an incident to be affected emotionally and most of our take-up is supporting staff for none-incident related events.
We had one such event recently that affected a large number of our staff because of the circumstances and the age of the patient. Following this event, myself and another 'key listener' were relieved of our clinical duties and we were able to provide emotional support over a couple of days. This put our model to the test and I'm pleased to say it passed.
These are work-related events. The other side to take-up involves staff who are distressed because of none-work related issues. We deal with this by signposting staff to other support structures, such as our Employees Assistance programme and our mental health First Aiders Hub. What we discovered was staff were not prepared to accept SISOS simply as a support for ‘second victims’. They demonstrated a need for other kinds of support, such as domestic abuse, money worries, bullying, and they wanted support for these issues. They weren’t prepared to differentiate.
We have developed other pathways to support staff holistically. Staff come to us at a rate of approximately three per week (theatre department) requesting a ‘SISOS’ – meaning, I need to talk, and that can be on any topic. The anonymity SISOS provides, because of the confidentiality and trust, is impacting favourably and staff are opening up.
Patients too. Our badge wearing listeners have attracted the attention of several patients who have felt safe enough to open up about domestic abuse. The SISOS team have supported three such patients and have taken advantage of that small window of opportunity to hopefully help them to change their lives for the better.
SISOS is now part of a broader staff support model at Chase Farm Hospital and we are working on various new arms for it, including a student nurse support arm. This happened directly as a result of a student nurse needing support out of university hours after witnessing a distressing event.
Read my other blogs on SISOS:
If you are thinking about setting up a similar initiative in your trust, I would be happy to discuss SISOS further with you. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org