With a need to attract ex-NHS staff back into clinical practice, we were commissioned to offer strategic HR support to the SW region. This work included the Bring Back Staff scheme - the COVID-19 vaccination programme workforce elements as well as building collaboration across the NHS, social care, and voluntary sector.
The NHS has severe and ongoing staff shortages. The Health Foundation has estimated that staff shortages could amount to some 250,000 staff by 2030. This is providing ongoing challenges to meet in the context of a growing and ageing population, putting ever more pressure on staff resources.
With the COVID-19 pandemic, these pressures have increased further as staff have been re-deployed to support COVID-19 treatment settings as well as the national vaccination programme. The NHS has identified a need to attract ex-NHS staff back into clinical practice to support the vaccination programme, mitigate operational pressures, or provide backfill to Trusts, PCNs, and other settings. A Bring Back Staff (BBS) scheme was introduced in March 2020 to attract retired and other ex-staff back into clinical practice to support the COVID-19 response, the emerging vaccination programme, and anticipated winter operational pressures.
We were commissioned to offer strategic HR support to the SW region. This work encompassed the Bring Back Staff scheme, the COVID-19 vaccination programme workforce elements as well as building collaboration across the NHS, social care and voluntary sector.
The Bring Back Staff scheme had encouraged several thousand ex-staff to consider returning to work at the NHS. Within the SW region, some 1,600 returners remained ‘ready to deploy’ by August 2020 but had not yet been deployed or employed within the seven SW Systems. It was, therefore, important to engage with these individuals about opportunities that would suit their needs and skills. Most individuals expressed a clear desire to support the COVID-19 response rather than returning longer term to the NHS. It was also vital to give systems confidence about available temporary staff supply to support operational pressures caused by the pandemic.
To maximise BBS returners’ potential deployment into SW systems, we designed and implemented a regional workforce bureau to ensure efficient deployment of individuals into Trusts and other settings. The bureau catered for returning nurses and midwives, AHPs, Pharmacists, GP Returners, Medical Support Workers and other professions. Engagement with returners was ongoing and included a returners survey, webinars, 1:1 profession-led phone calls and a central email address.
The regional workforce bureau provided a useful focus for returner activity – both for individuals and systems. It provided a means to ensure consistent, ongoing engagement and rapid, targeted deployment of individuals to support the COVID-19 vaccination programme or ad hoc operational needs. It also ensured consistent gathering and reporting of returner data to the national level. In all, several hundred nurses and midwives, 279 returning GPs and other professions were deployed into systems. It is expected that many may choose to join the emerging NHS Staff Reserve as a means to maintain more regular, though temporary, work with the NHS.
Results of the Bring Back Scheme are still being evaluated at a national level. Within the SW region, work is continuing to attract returners into available roles within Trusts and other settings. It is hoped that testimonials and other experiential information will become available from Trusts as well as from individual returners.