The pandemic shone a light on the health and care workforce and the difficulties being faced in recruiting and retaining staff. These gaps will have a direct impact on patient care and population health. This is despite all the goodwill in the world amongst existing staff who are facing burnout after 18 months of pandemic strain.
How can we support our staff?
Adopting a holistic, proactive view as a key principle when it comes to staff wellbeing is a prerequisite so that we can try to manage/mitigate burnout where possible. We need to set up good practices from an early point, encourage conversations from all levels, and recognise pinch points in the pipeline for operational delivery so that we can respond proactively.
True workforce resilience/sustainability and wellbeing supports both organisations and their staff to achieve a mutual gain in meeting both performance and work-life needs. We see many organisations starting to look forward and think about post COVID work and how hybrid and remote working can be delivered and achieved for the benefit of all. This varies from understanding agility – how roles, skills and people can respond to local emergent needs, to flexibility, in how and where people work.
A third element that we suggest organisations consider when exploring hybrid, flexible and remote working is productivity- not from the lens of outputs, but giving individuals permission to explore, understand and respond to how they best work and having a level of autonomy to plan around that. This can yield not only strong workforce engagement but support in getting the best out of our workforce at a time when lots of other pressing personal challenges are at the forefront of their minds. There won't be a one size fits all so organisations have to be curious and learn as they go, responding to a changing national picture.
At SCW we established a Survive and Thrive hour at the start of the pandemic to support flexibility and wellbeing. Staff are able to use this time during the day in whatever way works best for them. We don’t dictate how it needs to be used e.g. some use time out of calls to do emails, others go for walks or another exercise. It’s not a one size fits all, but gives autonomy and headspace for people to manage their flexibility. We also ask about work-life balance in our wellbeing survey and can analyse this at organisation and service line levels so that a more proactive/bespoke response can be taken when needed.
Building resilience within the workforce requires many approaches and lenses, from wellbeing to proactive workforce planning. Throughout the ongoing pandemic response, we are seeing systems take a much broader view of how and by whom work can be delivered, leading to a much more resilient and innovatively delivered workforce. Examples of some of these new approaches include; considering using volunteers and cadets, the development and use of new roles, such as the Additional Roles Reimbursement Scheme (ARRS) in primary care, and using retired resources more flexibly.
Using a wealth of data-driven insights, organisations and systems are able to more accurately plan and pinpoint workforce pinch points and future issues. This enables options for novel and wide-ranging solutions to be explored more creatively in response.
An innovative solution
One such unique example of this approach is the COVID-19 Clinical Assessment Service (CCAS), run by SCW in partnership with South Central Ambulance Service (SCAS). The national CCAS was set up at pace as part of the COVID pandemic response services, returning more than 2,000 GPs from retirement to practice. Using digitally lead innovation they were able to allow the returning workforce to work remotely and safely to support over half a million patients via NHS 111. Live real-time reporting and dashboarding along with an integrated candidate management system and workflow allowed for rapid reporting into national teams and ministerial lines around current workforce position. NHS 111 providers were able to flex and plan their workforce around this additional surge capacity.
The partnership model between SCAS and SCW saw SCW building and managing the workforce recruitment and scheduling to receive the incoming NHS 111 COVID referrals in real-time and conduct the clinical assessments. This enabled SCAS to meet the requirements of their pandemic response and deliver the surge requirement, providing support for the already pressured delivery teams within SCAS themselves.
The workforce innovation continues
Building on the experience we gained from setting up the CCAS in just a matter of weeks in 2020 to help the COVID management, SCW is launching a new scheme. We are using the skills and contacts developed during this pandemic project to set up an ongoing clinical workforce solution.
The clinical workforce solution will deliver a consolidated and committed, qualified workforce in support of the wider NHS who can be deployed where needed:
- To deliver front line patient care
- To support and develop transformation activities
The solution draws on the pool of talent recruited for the CCAS service who are eager to continue their support but may not want to return permanently to practice. This workforce has proven itself to be committed in its desire to support the NHS and there is a strong commitment amongst the doctors to be retained in some form to continue providing support to the NHS as part of a collective group. Using this talent SCW is able to provide additional capacity and service management to allow organisations to focus on their core delivery.
Using NHS organisations such as SCW to provide immediate and flexible resources at short notice to provide additional capacity to existing teams is a great way to provide resilience. We have supported providers with volume recruitment using our bank of skilled staff (who can also be available out of hours), additionally, we can support with employee case management, consultations and change management by supporting your existing teams with additional and skilled flexible resources so they can focus on your priorities.
Leading the way
Organisations need to be open to new and novel ideas, and great suggestions often come from their own teams. It’s an ongoing process that needs leaders to be open to experimentation and new ideas. Some arrangements may not work at first and will need to be adjusted. And that is OK. It is a normal and an important part of the process.
One of the biggest drivers of workforce resilience is leaders themselves, and their ability to both understand and address the barriers that are preventing employees from having a healthy work-life balance and experience.
The pandemic has led many employees to rethink the importance of work in their lives and to change their relationship with it. Many are demanding more flexibility to support their resilience. Leaders need to regard this as an opportunity for organisational transformation that will benefit both their employees, their organisations, and their patients and populations.