As set out in the NHS People Plan, the NHS needs to be bold and commit to offering more flexible, varied roles and opportunities for remote working. Over 70,000 people may already have left our employment because they were unable to balance their work with their caring commitments. COVID-19 has also brought changes to the responsibilities of many of our staff, including working parents juggling home-schooling and childcare.
We know it’s not always immediately easy to accommodate individual work preferences, but unless we become a flexible, modern employer in line with other sectors, we will continue to lose people or see participation rates decline.
Flexible working is about more than just retention. It can unlock new opportunities and contribute to people’s mental health, wellbeing and engagement with their role.
Carer’s UK estimates that approximately 72,000 people have left the NHS due to being unable to balance their work and caring responsibilities, and some 1:5 of our NHS people are carers. The care they give is unpaid and often helps to keep some of our most vulnerable members of society out of hospital or social care and improve their quality of life. There are resources available to support our carers and help them balance their work and caring responsibilities, making it more likely that we will keep these valuable members of staff in the NHS.
A carer is someone who provides unpaid care and support to a family member or friend due to their disability, health condition, frailty, mental health problem, addiction or other health and care needs. If you are looking after a child, including your own child, who has special physical or mental health support needs, then you are also a carer.
If you’re a carer, or supporting a working carer in your organisation, you can access practical tools, useful resources and support online.
Flexible working success stories
You may find these real examples useful when thinking about how to improve practices in your workplace.
- 19 November 2020: Nurses work life balance (Birmingham Women’s and Children’s NHS Foundation Trust)
- 11 August 2020: Improving retention at all stages of nurses’ careers (United Lincolnshire Hospital Trust)
- 2 March 2020: Supporting staff to work for longer (University Hospitals of Derby and Burton NHS Foundation Trust)
- 13 February 2020: Developing a sustainable career pathway (Warrington and Halton Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust)
- 28 November 2019: Improving joy at work – electronic self-rostering (Royal Free London NHS Foundation Trust)
- 29 August 2019: Annualised hour rotas for emergency department doctors (Brighton and Sussex University Hospitals NHS Trust)
- 25 July 2019: Improving staff recruitment and retention in emergency departments (Sheffield Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust)
- 10 June 2019: Implementing an enhanced care assessment tool (The Royal Liverpool and Broadgreen University Hospitals NHS Trust)
- 10 June 2019: Optimising ward staffing establishments (Isle of Wight NHS Trust)
- 10 June 2019: Implementing e-rostering software (Basildon and Thurrock University Hospital NHS Foundation Trust)
- 30 January 2019: Promoting flexible working and staff development (Yeovil District Hospital NHS Foundation Trust)
- 30 January 2019: Supporting flexible retirement transitions for an ageing workforce (Southend University Hospital NHS Foundation Trust
- 30 January 2019: Creating an engaging staff retention model (Southend University Hospital NHS Foundation Trust)
- University Hospitals Plymouth (UHP) New to Care
- Leading with empathy (East Lancashire Hospitals NHS Trust)
- 06 February 2020: Creative emergency department recruitment amid staff shortages (The Princess Royal University Hospital)
What initiatives can I take forward now?
We know that working flexibly, predictably and remotely is really important for all our people and needs to be integral to our support plans. If we don’t get this right, we will lose more staff or see participation rates decline in the future.
Here are just a few changes to how our people work that emerged during COVID:
- Virtual meetings: The average number of weekday remote meetings rose from 13,521 to 90,253 in weeks 1 to 8 of lockdown. This has allowed teams to run virtual multidisciplinary team meetings, case presentations and handovers, and teaching sessions. Many people across the NHS have noted that this has been more productive for them ‒ less time spent travelling (with the additional benefit of reduced air pollution) and better turnout at meetings, as well as improved work–life balance.
Action: Think about how you are planning to manage and improve remote working opportunities in your team or organisation.
- Remote consultations: Digital transformation has developed rapidly across the NHS, with around 550,000 video consultations taking place in primary and secondary care, and 2.3 million online consultation submissions to primary care in June. Video consultations are now used widely, including in community and mental health services, and in ambulance services. This has enabled staff across primary, community and secondary care to work differently, with some choosing to work fully or partly from home.
Action: Think about how sustainable remote consultations are for you, and what you could do better.
- Updated flexible working guidelines: NHS Employers has published a standard set of guidelines for managers around flexible working including what flexible working is and is not; responding to flexible working requests; advertising roles to promote flexible working patterns; and what to consider in leading a flexible workforce.
Action: Think about how you can better support and educate your managers around handling flexible working requests, during COVID and beyond.
- Enabling Staff Movement: Our people move around the NHS regularly for career development and to deliver care where it is needed most. The Enabling Staff Movement programme within NHS England and NHS Improvement is working on ways to enable this movement to happen swiftly, smoothly and safely. The programme has published an Enabling Staff Movement Toolkit to help NHS organisations and local/regional systems to share staff safely. The programme is also developing digital staff passports to support the safe movement of our people. The first step in this journey is the development of the COVID-19 Digital Staff Passport, which is currently live and being piloted. More information can be found on our website. If you would like to get involved e-mail us on firstname.lastname@example.org.
Action: ensure you have a workforce sharing agreement or memorandum of understanding that is in line with guidance in the toolkit and consider getting involved in the NHS COVID19 Digital Staff Passport.
Help us to help you
Do you have a success story or resource to share? Please contact us and let us know so we can make it available for everyone.