Strategy & LeadershipHR EffectivenessNHS Professionals’ CPO on deploying health workers at scale

NHS Professionals' CPO on deploying health workers at scale

Nick Keyte, chief people officer of NHS Professionals, outlines how the organisation was able to deploy over 130,000 workers at the height of the pandemic

Over the past eighteen months, the NHS has been put under unprecedented strain by the pandemic. With bed spaces short, a rush to secure vital ventilators, and millions suffering the effects of long COVID, health care leaders have had to utilise every possible resource, as well as innovate to solve challenges. How was this achieved? Plus, what was the vital role that HR played? Nick Keyte, chief people officer of NHS Professionals, explains the key role of flexible working, how the organisation supported its teams, and the importance of workforce planning for the time to come.  

NHS Professionals Ltd was created with the purpose of being a major workforce solutions provider for the NHS. The organisation is wholly owned by the Department of Health & Social Care and has a revenue in excess of £1.2bn. NHSP’s ability to mobilise thousands of workers both medical professionals and non-clinical workers for the NHS at the start of the pandemic and even today has been exceptional.

It deploys over 130,000 workers into Acute & Mental Health Trusts in England and other dedicated workforce programmes on behalf of the DHSC.

Through the initial weeks of the pandemic and beyond, NHSP was able to stand up several new services through the agility of their corporate staff and flexible workforce business model including Rapid Response, Nightingale staff, Test and Trace clinicians, and the critical national vaccination programmes.

All of these workforce mobilisations were of significant scale, delivered at speed and have had a direct effect on the healthcare outcomes into NHS; therefore enabling the NHS to continue to deliver services through an unprecedented time of national need.

Operating under exceptional circumstances

NHSP’s corporate employees were provided with clear leadership on the changes to business as usual and the requirements for a pandemic response and the HR function stepped forward and implemented several supportive activities during this time of national crisis:

• With a corporate workforce required to draw heavily on discretionary effort, an immediate need was an extension to our Employee Assistance Programme and we developed and implemented a proactive Wellness and Mental Health Strategy and programme of actions and interventions.
• Engagement was put to the centre of employee practice, with a real time engagement tool implemented to enable a constant dialogue between managers and staff on wellbeing, challenges, disablers, positive practice, recognition and shared experience. Specific elements such as ‘Not In The Same Boat, ‘Remote Working’ and ‘Managing Remote Staff’ were regular events, supported by specific pulse surveys.
• My Time allowed staff a safe space to discuss how the pandemic was affecting them and to pick up on individual learning and support to take on the challenges they faced.
• The Compelling Employee Journey and the NHSP Institute of Learning became a huge go-to point for learning and skills improvement. This digital platform was made available via an app, together with a newly launched system including real time dialogue and feedback on live objectives. This made significant progress towards providing business priorities, feedback and employee dialogue and recognition.
• The Compelling Employee Journey, which gave a new performance and development structure to career pathways and reward.

The impact of our employee value proposition and our employment practices have never been greater, which is supported by the Top Employers recognition and accreditation.

We have worked immensely hard to ensure we offer a highly appealing and meaningful opportunity to our employees, capturing the strong vocational connection of working to the values of the NHS. The Top Employers Award allowed NHSP to recognise that our approach to people management, organisational management, and practice could be seen as a benchmark, and to share that award with our staff.

Our employees work for NHSP because they want to give something back to the NHS and support it; we work to provide them with career pathways and clear mechanisms to provide feedback so they are engaged with our purpose.

HR stepped up and continues to deliver support

Throughout the pandemic, the HR team supported the mobilisation of activities to support our corporate workforce, so that they were able to deliver the requirements the NHS trusts and bank members were placing on us.

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Teamwork and collaboration has never been more important, and the delivery of Top Employers at the time of the pandemic illustrates how critical the HR team are in offering and ensuring the right HR practices are in place for our entire corporate workforce.

What next?

2021 is the year of quality. Following a period of significant corporate employee expansion, the HR function must work to support managers in ensuring retention and employee engagement remains high, as the NHS challenge of backlog and business as usual returns whilst the pandemic still remains.

Through the continued use of My Engagement, the HR team supports leadership and line managers to assess staff feedback and requirements, to help continue to build a great place to work.

Workforce planning and hiring exceptional talent to support NHSP is essential. This helps us to continue to deliver on the post-pandemic requirements, whilst exploring new service offerings to both our bank workers and our partnering NHS trusts, which has never been more essential.

With the economy easing, the demand for talent can only be greater and already the reward landscape is quickly becoming more competitive. As such, relying on a strong vocational connection and clear contribution to society will not be enough to meet tomorrow’s needs. HR will need to lead creatively.

HR leaders must be able to expect the unexpected and help their organisations introduce change that delivers clear responses and value at speed. As the pandemic experience has shown, we’re all connected as a society, so while the next set of turbulent or extremely turbulent times may well not be another pandemic, it will affect all employers and employees.

It’s too easy to be trapped in dealing with today’s problems, and the most effective workforces of coming years will be those who are fully bought into continual and often radical change. HR’s overarching success is how they ensure their business leaders have the right competence, resources and agility to deal with these challenges as they arise.

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