NHS to focus on flexible working and staff wellbeing

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Flexible working, education and health and wellbeing are at the forefront of the new NHS People Plan, which the government hopes will make ‘real and lasting change’ within England’s health service.

NHS England said the Covid-19 crisis had brought about a need for “profound changes”, especially around wellbeing, flexible and remote working, and the inequalities faced by black and minority ethnic (BAME) staff.

Health and social care secretary Matt Hancock said: “Every single person working in the NHS has contributed to an unprecedented national effort to beat back this virus and save lives. They have protected us and in return this government will do everything in its power to protect and support them.

“By making the NHS the best place to work we’ll recruit and retain more talent and deliver 50,000 more nurses, 6,000 more doctors in general practice and 26,000 staff primary care professionals.”

Hancock also urged staff to highlight areas where they thought bureaucracy and red tape could be slashed. The NHS’s call for evidence says this could include allowing staff to use secure messaging services like WhatsApp to facilitate rapid information access, and making it easier to link millions of primary care records to the latest data on coronavirus, which it says will allow the government to analyse coronavirus risk factors.

From January 2021, all jobs across NHS England and NHS Improvement will be advertised as being available for flexible working patterns, while all former staff will be encouraged to return to the health service – just as they were approached when Covid-19 cases increased earlier this year.

The NHS People Plan 2020-21 also focuses on looking after its people, including greater support for health and wellbeing via a dedicated support line, specialist bereavement support and free access to health and wellbeing apps. In addition, there are plans to pilot a programme of resilience hubs working in partnership with occupational health programmes to coordinate referrals to treatment and support to help staff stay well and in work.

Education also features heavily in the plan, with some 350 training grants to be offered to nurses to become cancer or chemotherapy nurses; an additional 5,000 undergraduate places from September 2020 in nursing, midwifery, allied health professions and dental therapy and hygienist courses; and the introduction of a £10m fund for clinical placements for nurses, midwives and allied health professionals.

In recognition of the fact that BAME staff face a greater risk of dying from Covid-19, all NHS organisations will complete risk assessments for vulnerable staff and take action where needed.

Every NHS trust, foundation trust and clinical commissioning group must also publish their progress in ensuring that BAME people are represented at all levels of their organisation.

Workforce planning will also be carried out at a more local level, and staff morale will be tracked via a new quarterly survey.

NHS chief people officer Prerana Issar said she hoped the new measures would make the NHS “a more equal, inclusive and flexible organisation”.

“The pandemic has created huge challenges, but it has also highlighted the courage and innovation we are capable of in the most difficult of times. We have recognised the need for consistently high-quality health and wellbeing support for our staff, so they can better care for themselves and their patients. These changes must remain part of the blueprint of our NHS as we move forward together,” said Issar.

Our staff are our greatest asset and, if any evidence were needed of their dedication and commitment, the terrible trauma of this pandemic has provided cast-iron proof of that,” – Niall Dickson, NHS Confederation

Niall Dickson, chief executive of the NHS Confederation, which represents organisations across the healthcare sector, said: “Our staff are our greatest asset and, if any evidence were needed of their dedication and commitment, the terrible trauma of this pandemic has provided cast-iron proof of that.

“It is therefore fitting that this People Plan focuses on a commitment to look after our staff, many of whom are exhausted and now have to face up to the possibility of a gruelling winter.”

Dickson said health organisations had carried out risk assessments for around 80% of BAME staff, which was an important first step in tackling inequality.

“But of course, this Plan does not contain new money and so we must regard it as an instalment, not the finished article. The government must fulfil its pledge to provide a comprehensive and realistic multi-year settlement in the Comprehensive Spending Review in the Autumn – a settlement which supports the ambitions in the Plan to tackle a workforce crisis which every day places intolerable strains on staff up and down England,” he said.

“We must also see social care brought into this process. It was a mistake not to bring together health and social care workforce planning.”

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