NHS Highland

Access to bikes for key NHS workers.

Healthcare in the Highlands

NHS Highland is one of 14 geographical health boards in Scotland, with 26 hospitals and 230 sites spread across the Highlands.

To encourage cycling to work, NHS Highland has a Cycle to Work scheme – but only staff with a permanent contract are eligible to access this benefit. In response to the pandemic, the health board applied to the Cycling Friendly NHS Worker Fund to access funding to provide bikes to temporary or bank staff.

Bank staff are a crucial group of key workers to keep the NHS running efficiently. Over 1,000 bank staff in NHS Highland rely on their bank shifts as their main source of income. Most have some level of caring responsibilities within their personal lives – which can be a barrier to committing to a full-time permanent contract, and the associated benefits. Many people are on a low income, and not in the financial position to buy a bike and the necessary accessories such as lights and a lock.

Cycling Friendly NHS Worker bikes

To support bank staff, NHS Highland successfully applied for the Cycling Friendly NHS Worker Fund, gaining funding to supply bikes and accessories to 41 employees.

Dan Jenkins, Senior Health Improvement Specialist at NHS Highland, says: “Supporting all our staff, especially throughout the covid-19 pandemic, is really important to us. Cycling Scotland showed great vision in recognising the limitations of cycle to work schemes for bank workers; and we are grateful for their negotiations in arranging this scheme and their guidance for us in applying for this funding.”

The nature of bank shifts means that a lot of staff are dependent on public transport or car sharing to get to and from shifts at unsociable hours. Providing bikes to staff gives them the freedom to travel to and from work at all hours, allowing them to meet shift requirements and creating self-reliance.

Riding a bike to work has had other positive health-associated benefits for staff - travelling alone and outdoors has reduced the risk of spreading or contracting the virus.

The funding has helped to make active travel a possibility for staff on low or irregular incomes, as they can access a bike at no additional cost.

Motivation to cycle

Lizbeth Collie, Active Travel Engagement Officer at NHS Highland for Sustrans, noted that confidence is a barrier to cycling, especially for many of the female staff she engages with – who make up 77% of NHS Scotland staff overall. To support the offer of access to bikes and accessories, Lizbeth has been signposting people to cycle training information, routes and maintenance guides, to help them build their skills and confidence. The ability to carry out basic maintenance has also helped staff to save money on repairs.

Many employees who received a bike through the funding reported that they developed unhealthy eating and exercise patterns during lockdown and were keen to see the health and environmental benefits that come from cycling.

One employee said: “My new bike will let me maintain my fitness and give me the simple pleasure of breathing in fresh air, whilst making a tiny contribution to reducing the world's carbon footprint.” 

Another employee shared the financial benefits: “My new bike will let me pick up more shifts and earn an income which will enable my family to live more comfortably, especially after the effects of covid-19 reduced our family income.” 

Going further than cycling to work, staff also have been using their bikes to connect with their families during their time off. Caitriona MacDonald, bank staff employee at Raigmore Hospital, Inverness and recipient of a bike, says: “My beautiful new bike has taken me on many adventures to date. My five year old has now learned to cycle without stabilisers alongside me!”

Working with Cycling Scotland

To other NHS health boards, Lizbeth says: “This is a fantastic opportunity to be able to support staff, and we’d be happy to share our experience if anyone has questions. It has been one of the most satisfying work experiences that I’ve personally been involved in. People didn’t have access to a bike before and now they do - thanks to this funding.

“We are able to say to staff, if you’ve ever been even slightly interested in cycling to work before, here is a tangible and practical offer we can give to you. It’s motivating to us as an employer to be able to help out staff, especially during this difficult time of the pandemic.

“The impact of covid-19 has focused people’s minds on public health – there’s a responsibility we all have to stay well and look after ourselves and at the NHS we want to be an exemplar of that. Providing access to bikes is helping our staff stay well, so they can care for others and be with their families.”

Award-winning sites

Four sites across NHS Highland have achieved the Cycling Friendly Employer Award: Raigmore Hospital, Royal Northern Infirmary, Larch House and Assynt House – all in Inverness. Taking part in the award process has helped the health board to focus discussions on active travel and improvements that could be made. Staff found it helpful to have discussions with their Cycling Friendly assessor, for practical advice and guidance.

Lizbeth expresses: “Achieving the award is great recognition for all the staff and project managers involved, who have worked really hard to implement a strong cycling culture in their workplaces. Having these cycling facilities cheers people up, and they can see that their employer cares about their health.”

New hospitals being built in Aviemore and Skye are set to have good active travel infrastructure built in from the beginning, after the positive results experienced at other sites.

Considering covid-19, Lizbeth says there has been a major shake-up of travel patterns and work patterns within the workplace. For employees who have a future of blended home and office working ahead of them, she sees this as a great opportunity to introduce cycling to work for one or two days a week. “The onus is on employers all over to proactively support their staff to take up active travel for multiple benefits, helped through opportunities that are provided, such as the Cycling Friendly Employer award.”

Find out more about the Cycling Friendly NHS Worker Fund.