NHS celebrates the vital role hundreds of thousands of women have played in the pandemic

After the most challenging year in the history of the health service, the NHS is celebrating the vital role that hundreds of thousands of women have played in the pandemic effort across the NHS, on International Women’s Day.

With more than three quarters of the 1.3 million members of NHS staff made up of women, they have been at the forefront of the fight against COVID and played a leading part in the roll out of the largest vaccination programme in the health service history, including Chief Commercial Officer Dr Emily Lawson and Medical Director of Primary Care Dr Nikki Kanani.

From the more than 300,000 nurses and health visitors to the ambulance staff, scientific and therapeutic personnel, management and clinical support teams, women have been instrumental in continuing to give the highest quality of care.

NHS staff who are women make up:

  • 88.6% of the 342,104 nurses and health visitors are women
  • 42.5% of 18,509 ambulance staff
  • 77.6% of 172,267 scientific, therapeutic and technical staff
  • 62% of 22,552 managers
  • 76.7% of 1.3 million NHS staff are women

In addition to the challenges of the pandemic, women have also led the vaccination roll out, spearheaded by chief commercial officer Dr Emily Lawson.

The NHS has now vaccinated more than 19 million people across England, the fastest vaccine roll out in Europe.

To celebrate this, the NHS will host an International Women’s Day conference on Monday, led by chief people officer Prerana Issar who will be joined by leading women from across the organisation. More than 5,000 people have registered for the event already.

Reflecting on the struggles and achievements of the last year, Dr Emily Lawson said: “I could not be prouder of all that we have achieved collectively over the past year, with many thousands of my colleagues who are women forming the driving force of the vaccination rollout.

“Being a part of the biggest vaccination drive in NHS history has been the privilege of my career. It is an incredible team effort and as well as offering people huge hope in the pandemic it is saving people’s lives.

“When you think about the host of COVID heroes, so many women spring to mind – from May Parsons who administered the first jab to Nikki Kanani leading the way in primary care and encouraging uptake in BAME communities. While the last year has been the toughest in most of our lives, it has never been a prouder time to be a woman working in the NHS.”

NHS England medical director of primary care Dr Nikki Kanani said: “From juggling home-schooling, to supporting primary care teams around the country to adjust to a once-in-a-lifetime pandemic and appearing at multiple Downing Street press conferences, it has been a year like no other.

“COVID has had a huge impact on all of our lives and I have been so proud of the way my colleagues across the NHS have adapted to the challenges we have faced in the last 12 months.

“I have continued to work as a general practitioner throughout the pandemic but have also used my role as NHS England Medical Director of Primary Care to navigate practices across England through a rapid change, from almost entirely face-to-face work, to almost completely digital and remote work.

“It has presented a host of challenges to family doctors and their teams, who have stepped up and adapted to the change while also more recently being a core part of the largest vaccination programme in NHS history.

“Like my colleagues, I have been helping to vaccinate the most vulnerable, and last month I launched the NHS blueprint to increase vaccine confidence, which has become a hugely important part of our roll out.

“It’s vital that everyone, regardless of race, ethnicity, gender or class, benefits from the vaccine, which is the fastest and safest way to open up our communities again.”

Chief People Officer for the NHS, Prerana Issar said: “As the largest employer of women in Europe, with more than one million amazing women working across every profession and discipline in health and care, the NHS has a vital role to play in the global effort to build a more equal and sustainable future.

“It is vital that we all take the time to reflect on the past year and our role in the NHS’ response to the pandemic. Which is why, this International Women’s Day, I am co-hosting the largest gathering of women in health and care in the history of the NHS.

“I am in awe of the inspiring women leading thought-provoking and exciting sessions, from paramedics, to mental health therapists, porters to chief executives and every role between. These women and allies will reflect on how our lived experiences and individual contributions can improve the outcomes and experience of those who have been most impacted by the past year”

Modern Matron May Parsons, who delivered the first Pfizer vaccination in the world outside of a clinical trial on 8 December 2020, said: “It was a great honour to have been chosen to perform the first vaccination against COVID-19 outside of clinical trials. My family has been very proud of this achievement and recognition. They’ve always been proud of me but seeing the publicity and positive reaction to the vaccination has made them even prouder of what I have chosen to do and be – a Nurse. It has also shone a light on the high quality care we all provide.

“I came to the country in October 2003 and started a job in Theatres as a Scrub Nurse. I was placed on Vascular Theatres, General, Emergency and Urology before moving to Recovery.

“Fast forward to the end of October 2020, after securing the permanent Modern Matron post for Escalation and Education, I agreed to cover the Modern Matron post for Respiratory and it was in this role that then saw me vaccinate Maggie Keenan back in December and kick off the biggest vaccination programme the NHS has ever seen.”

Dr Farzana Hussain, a London-based GP who has been taking the fight against vaccine hesitancy into her own hands by phoning every patient from her surgery who has been offered but not yet accepted their jab, said: “Over the last year I have been working tirelessly with my colleagues across the NHS to protect the public and in particular those who are most vulnerable from COVID-19.”

Sam Allen, chair of the NHS Confederation’s Health and Care Women Leaders Network and chief executive of Sussex Partnership NHS Foundation Trust, said: “Women across the health service, as well as our friends and colleagues in social care, have contributed in so many important ways to shape the NHS’ response to the COVID-19 crisis over the past year.

“When we pause to reflect on the fact that seventy-seven per cent of NHS staff are women, we must also pause to salute and honour the role that each and every one of them plays in delivering amazing patient care.

“We must never give up our work in continuing to push for progress and our aim of achieving gender equality both across the NHS and across society as a whole.

“Now is the time to unite together in our actions to tackle that inequality in the same way we have come together over the past twelve months to fight against the pandemic.”