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.
Flexible working success stories
You may find these real examples useful when thinking about how to improve practices in your workplace.
- Improving joy at work – electronic self-rostering (Royal Free)
- UHBD – working for longer (Derby & Burton)
- Annualised hour rotas for emergency department doctors (Brighton and Sussex University Hospitals NHS Trust)
- Improving staff recruitment and retention in emergency departments (Sheffield Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust)
- Implementing an enhanced care assessment tool (Royal Liverpool and Broadgreen University Hospitals NHS Trust)
- Promoting flexible working and staff development (Yeovil District Hospital NHS Foundation Trust)
- Optimising ward staffing establishments (Isle of Wight NHS Trust)
- Implementing e-rostering software (Basildon and Thurrock University Hospital NHS Foundation Trust)
- Supporting flexible retirement transitions for an ageing workforce (Southend University Hospital NHS Foundation Trust
- Creating an engaging staff retention model (Southend University Hospital NHS Foundation Trust)
- University Hospitals Plymouth (UHP) New to Care
- East Lancashire Hospitals NHS Trust leading with empathy
- Developing a sustainable career pathway – Warrington and Halton Teaching Hospitals (WHH) NHS Trust
- Creative emergency department recruitment amid staff shortages
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.
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.