The NHS People Plan - 'We are the NHS: People Plan 2020/21' - has been published, putting staff wellbeing at its heart with a new recruitment, retention and support package, including practical support for wellbeing.
Even though the People Plan has been a work in progress for a couple of years, long before COVID-19 was even a speck on the horizon, the pandemic has imprinted its influence all over this plan in much the same way it has on our daily lives.
The People Plan builds on the innovations driven by staff during the pandemic and sets out how the NHS can embed them. "The arrival of COVID-19 acted as a springboard, bringing about an incredible scale and pace of transformation, and highlighting the enormous contribution of all our NHS people. The NHS must build on this momentum and continue to transform – keeping people at the heart of all we do."
It focuses on how NHS staff must all continue to look after each other and foster a culture of inclusion and belonging, as well as taking action to grow the workforce, train people, and work together differently to deliver patient care.
The plan includes specific commitments around four key actions: Looking after people; Belonging in the NHS; New ways of working; Delivering care and growing for the future.
It introduces initiatives in support of these actions that focus on several themes, including:
• Establishing the NHS as a flexible, modern and caring employer with the introduction of flexible working across all roles
• More support for the health and wellbeing of all staff, providing safe spaces, access to psychological support and opening conversations
• Improving the culture of the NHS so it is an open and inclusive employer within with there is no place for discrimination, violence and bullying
• Developing and supporting leaders to provide good, inclusive and distributed leadership at all levels and across all roles
• Focusing on training and upskilling to create more flexibility in the workforce and support career progression
• Increasing recruitment and growing apprenticeships as well as focusing on staff retention with initiatives such as more flexible working
• Collaborating across health and care systems with a bigger role for systems in workforce planning and transformation.
Throughout the pandemic there has been a change in attitude towards many estates and facilities roles, such as domestic staff, resulting in recognition that these are also essential workers and not ‘back office’ staff. It is therefore frustrating that this public recognition and support has not been carried through into the People Plan. There is little or no mention of the particular problems of recruiting and retaining staff in these roles and more generally within estates and facilities. Furthermore, some of the specific initiatives announced in the plan, such as working with universities to support an increase in undergraduate places and a new £10m fund for clinical placements, are specified for nurses, midwives, allied health professionals, dental therapy and hygienists, with no mention of similar support for recruiting engineers, project managers, catering managers etc.
However, a further People Plan has also been announced, to follow once the forthcoming spending review has confirmed future NHS education and training budgets. In addition, the government will shortly publish its Social Care Winter Plan, building on NHS support for the sector during COVID-19, to ensure the system has the support it needs in preparation for winter and potential future outbreaks.
Prerana Issar, NHS Chief People Officer, says: "This plan aims to make real and lasting change in our NHS to benefit our hardworking staff. It includes practical actions based on what our people tell us matters to them, including a more equal, inclusive and flexible organisation.
"The pandemic has created huge challenges, but it has also highlighted the courage and innovation we are capable of in the most difficult of times. We have recognised the need for consistently high-quality health and wellbeing support for our staff, so they can better care for themselves and their patients. These changes must remain part of the blueprint of our NHS as we move forward together."