The Excellence in Public Service HR Award was picked up by the Department of Health and Social Care for its team effort around the resourcing of PPE procurement during the pandemic. We take a closer look at its winning entry and those of the other finalists.
Department of Health and Social Care
In order to ensure that frontline workers had enough personal protective equipment (PPE) at the start of the pandemic, the DHSC needed to attract, onboard and retain a specialist workforce at pace. It needed to include commercial employees, military experts, civil servants and NHS experts to procure the equipment needed.
Within the first few weeks of the crisis, the recruitment team had assembled more than 800 people. This needed to be more than temporary, with a view to building a sustainable and robust supply chain to manage ongoing pandemic conditions. The DHSC also wanted to promote a consistent team culture and ensure everyone’s wellbeing was preserved. A key part of this was ensuring the onboarding of the workforce was interactive and welcoming, despite being remote. A buddy system progressed throughout the programme so people had a direct HR contact if they needed support.
Recognising the pressures of the programme, DHSC introduced a ‘notice, nudge and intervene’ approach to ensure colleagues supported each other from the risk of burnout. An on-call system was introduced to minimise work burdens and staff got to know their colleagues’ skills and background via a modular learning approach. Offboarding was equally important, with a small team dedicated to capturing information on workers’ expertise for future needs. People’s time on the team was celebrated with a personalised letter from the health secretary, and a sustainable supply of PPE was achieved.
Judges said that its team effort around resourcing the procurement of PPE deserved to be celebrated, and were impressed with its approach to protecting colleagues at risk of burnout.
London Northwest University Healthcare NHS Trust
London North West University Healthcare Trust (LNWH) is an acute community Trust with a workforce of more than 8,500 people. Black and minority ethnic staff make up 65% of the Trust, which serves Ealing, Harrow and Brent. The disproportionate impact of Covid-19 on those from ethnic minority communities meant that at one point during the pandemic almost 20% of staff were off sick with the virus.
When vaccinations were introduced, the Trust’s staff were key in delivering it to the public but uptake among themselves was low. The Trust wanted to promote vaccine uptake among ethnic minority staff without stigmatising them or creating a ‘blame’ culture.
It set up listening events, engaged with staff networks and consulted with clinicians. A team of clinical and non-clinical vaccine advocates came together with the support of HR to promote vaccine uptake, including town-hall style meetings to raise awareness, direct messaging via social media, video campaigns and webinars. They also held Q&A clinics and open sessions where staff could share their concerns.
Between February and June 2021, vaccine uptake among the Trust’s Black and ethnic minority workforce increased from 56% to 81% (and continued to increase). Trust CEO Chris Bown said of the increase: “It is no exaggeration to say that incredibly serious health outcomes have been significantly reduced through this collaborative effort”.
Ministry of Justice (in partnership with MatchFit)
Managing people is a huge challenge for the MoJ, which employs more than 82,000 people across 34 agencies and public bodies. Historically, the MoJ HR casework team has been focused on supporting line managers with a broad range of HR issues. However, there was still a steady increase in employment litigation cases (up 38%), grievances (up 18%) or lost days through sickness (up 13%), so it needed to lead to more sustainable change.
In January 2020 the MoJ engaged with consulting firm MatchFit to build a development solution that would address these issues. This led to the creation of HR Technical Consultancy Services (HRTC), an integrated service that delivers improved technical HR capability for managers but also drives cultural change. It acts as a dedicated point of contact for HR advice and offers case management more suited to the organisation’s needs. Gathering data through case audits means leaders can receive feedback and get a clearer picture of the organisation’s challenges.
Since its inception in April 2020, HRTC has been rolled out virtually to 11 business areas across several government departments. There has been a 33% fall in the time it takes to deal with attendance management cases, average days lost to sickness have fallen by 20% and there has been a 17% fall in absence-related costs. The MoJ has now recruited 10 full-time intervention consultants to deliver the programme across the Civil Service.
Northumberland County Council
Northumberland County Council is one of the biggest local authorities in geographical size in England, covering the towns of Hexham, Berwick upon Tweed, Cramlington, Ashington, Blyth, Ashington and Morpeth. It employs approximately 4,500 people and 9,000 if school staff are included. The HR and OD team comprises 45 people and caters for both the council and external customers.
When the first Covid-19 lockdown was announced in March 2020, it became apparent that employees’ experiences would be very different – from key workers on the front line to remote workers such as the revenue and benefits teams. There was an understanding early on that Black and ethnic minority staff and those with underlying health conditions were at higher risk, but the department felt it would strengthen the workplace psychological contract by undertaking a risk assessment for all staff rather than particular groups.
The HR and OD team swiftly conducted risk assessments to understand individuals’ practical and wellbeing needs, covering more than 4,000 staff in a matter of weeks. The team worked collaboratively across all levels of the organisation, gaining executive team or ‘Gold Command’ sponsorship for this project, providing updates on a weekly basis.