‘Nightingale effect’ sees thousands of healthcare support workers join the NHS

The NHS has boosted support for patients, their families and staff by recruiting 10,000 healthcare support workers (HCSWs) in the first three months of the year.

The new staff will support the workforce and assist nurses, midwives and other healthcare professionals to perform health checks, update patient records, help patients wash, dress and move around, and care for women and families in maternity services. They will also support people with mental health conditions, learning disabilities, and autism.

New NHS data shows of the 10,000 new staff, half are completely new to health and social care – clear evidence of the ‘Nightingale effect’ caused by the coronavirus pandemic. They will be joined by a further 5,000 HCSWs who will start work following successful pre-employment checks.

In November 2020, NHS England and NHS Improvement launched their latest We Are the NHS recruitment campaign. This followed a record rise in nursing students joining the NHS this academic year, with UCAS figures from August 2020 showing a 22% increase from the same point in 2019.

Ruth May, Chief Nursing Officer for England, said: “We are so pleased to be welcoming people from all different walks of life into the NHS. The last year has seen nurses and midwives play a leading role in the fight against coronavirus, inspiring millions across England with their skilled and compassionate care.

“A healthcare support worker can be the perfect entry point to the NHS, offering a varied and rewarding career.

“Many of our registered nurses, midwives and allied health professionals began their careers as HCSWs, so if you like thousands of others have been inspired by the work of staff over the past year, please consider joining us.”

Prerana Issar, chief people officer, added: “Throughout the last year, the world has watched as our inspirational NHS staff have come together in the fight against coronavirus, treating tens of thousands of patients and delivering the biggest vaccination programme in history.

“The increase in staff wanting to join the NHS is in no doubt related to this ‘Nightingale effect’ of the pandemic, and we look forward to welcoming these new recruits into our workforce.”

There are around 150,000 HCSWs in the health service, and in a drive to reduce vacancies and bolster the workforce, the NHS invested £45 million in recruiting more. A total of 10,611 have begun careers with NHS providers since 1 January.

One of these is Sophie Morgan, who previously ran a dance school but reconsidered her career when the pandemic struck. She is now working as an apprentice maternity care assistant and says: “It was really hard during the COVID-19 pandemic, realising I was going to have to close my dance school and re-evaluate my work options. I was drawn to working in healthcare because I’m a people person and I like helping people; that was my main focus and drive.

“The main part of what I do is supporting pregnant women after they go for their scans. I can be one of the first people they meet at the start of their pregnancy journey. It’s such an exciting time and so rewarding to see happy patients.”

For some, being part of delivering the COVID-19 vaccination programme inspired them to join the NHS permanently.

41-year-old Enayath Kabir from Luton began working as a security guard at one of Hertfordshire Community NHS Trust’s busiest COVID-19 vaccination centres in January and has since began training as a clinical support worker apprentice. Enayath said: “Working at the vaccination site was so positive and got me thinking again about a dream I have harboured since I was a teenager, about becoming a nurse.

“I approached two of the trust’s senior nurses in the Immunisation team, who really encouraged me to apply for a role in the NHS. I have since started my new nursing career at the Lister here in Stevenage, as a clinical support worker apprentice. I will be able to train on site and hopefully one day become a registered nurse.”

4,770 further HCSWs will join the NHS as soon as their pre-employment checks are complete.

HCSWs are an essential part of a healthcare team and are at the very heart of patient care, working under the supervision of healthcare professionals to help patients on their journey back to full health.

Yusuf Yousuf works a theatre support worker, having previously been a hospital porter for a decade. Inspired by the work of the nurses and healthcare staff he observed as a porter, Yusuf said: “I wanted to be more hands-on with patient care and I knew from being a porter I’d have some transferrable skills, like being able to talk to and look after people. As a healthcare support worker, you’re an integral part of the care team, and it’s such an interesting role. I love every minute!”

Mark Gibbs is a trainee nursing associate who specialises in trauma and orthopaedics and joined the NHS when he retired from the Army after 23 years’ service. “Coming into the NHS was a big step forward and one that I’m glad to have taken,” Mark said. “After working in the military, and witnessing injuries, it made me want to come into healthcare so I can help people recover and live as full a life as possible. It’s hard work and it’s a challenge, but there’s help and support and there’s progression too. I’m proud of all my colleagues and those coming into the NHS at this time and in the future.”

HCSW roles are particularly suited to those looking to begin a career in healthcare or people who want to switch to a role in healthcare, with most positions available to enter with GCSEs.

All HCSWs are encouraged to take qualifications and increase their knowledge and skills, with the care certificate providing valuable recognition of experience.

The role also offers opportunities to progress; you can choose to specialise in a particular setting, or train to qualify as a registered healthcare professional, such as a nurse or midwife.

The NHS is currently recruiting for more than 18,000 roles, many of which don’t require a medical or nursing degree or background.

The recently published People Plan reiterates the NHS’s commitment to ensuring it has the highest quality working standards for all its employees.

This includes building a compassionate and inclusive culture, developing flexible ways of working and delivering care, and offering more physical and psychological support to staff.