Harnessing the learnings from COVID-19 for long-term workforce flexibility


Innovation and new ways of working have been at the heart of the COVID-19 response, says a new report, ‘Workforce flexibility in the NHS: Utilising COVID-19 innovations’, published by NHS Providers.

The briefing captures the workforce changes that made the greatest impact as Trusts responded to the outbreak of the pandemic through rapid innovation and change.

Launching the report, NHS Providers Deputy Chief Executive, Saffron Cordery says: “It is truly heartening and impressive to see the speed at which workforce innovations and flexibilities have been implemented in the NHS since the outbreak of COVID-19.

“Our new report urges that these changes be quickly codified into policy and practice, to ensure that valuable improvements secured in the first peak of COVID-19 are not lost.”

“We know that staff are the beating heart of the NHS, so we must do our best to make sure they are able to do their jobs, supporting their mental and physical wellbeing and protecting them from burnout.”

The briefing has been directly informed by Trust leaders, drawn from the conclusions of a roundtable discussion held in July and which focused on the changes to workforce management. The recommendations it makes aim to ensure the NHS is able to cope, long-term, as the service faces a second wave of COVID-19, while also managing backlogs and dealing with seasonal pressures.

The report explores and makes recommendations on six key areas of change:

• Staff wellbeing

• Flexibility in staff deployment and roles

• Cross-organisational working and regulation

• Technology

• Making use of new roles

• Funding.

Here’s a summary of some of the key points from the briefing.


NHS Providers’ survey finds that 99% of Trust leaders are either extremely or moderately concerned about the current level of burnout across the workforce.

Race inequalities

The pandemic has highlighted the health risks around such inequalities. National and local initiatives are now needed to address this, empower and protect Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) staff without prescribing a ‘one-size-fits-all’ solution or putting the onus of change on BAME staff.


Central funding is necessary to ensure local wellbeing initiatives are able to continue and not fall away as Trusts may be forced to choose between investing in wellbeing or resources. Long-term, the focus should be on building flexibility and support into the system rather than focusing on the resilience of individual staff members.

Staff deployment

The flexibility resulting from reduced bureaucracy has increased opportunities for staff to develop skills in new areas. This should be retained, but with assurance built-in over liability and patient experience.

Fast-tracked students and returning staff

These provided a valuable increase to workforce capacity and with funding and expanded training locations the engagement of these staff could continue.

Collaboration and simplified regulation

These have been enormously beneficial to the delivery of care throughout the pandemic and are factors that should be retained and strengthened.


Virtual consultations and remote care have increased capacity, but Trusts want to retain the flexibility to offer face-to-face care. Ensuring software interoperability across the NHS is a matter of urgent priority. Funding is necessary for home-working equipment to retain this as a viable option for staff.

Funding to ensure the recruitment and retention of NHS staff has never been more vital.

Click here to download and read the full briefing.

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