Behind the curtain: expanding our non-clinical NHS workforce - James Orr

When people think of the NHS, most will naturally think of those in clinical uniforms – the many brilliant nurses, midwives, doctors, allied health professionals and clinical support workers with direct and frequent patient contact. Some may also think of the legion of healthcare scientists analysing millions of clinical samples a year in laboratories. 


Many will not immediately think of non-clinical workers. But in fact, out of the total 1.5 million full-time equivalents employed in the NHS, they make up more than 190,000, with thousands more working part-time. They work ‘behind the curtain’ in less obvious functions such as hotel services (catering and laundry, for example), estates, digital (IM&T), administration and management. In real terms they help to keep the vast and complex NHS infrastructure moving so front line services are as clear as possible to focus on patient care.


At NHS Professionals (NHSP), we’ve been placing increasing numbers of non-clinical Bank Members in roles at our client Trusts. In 2020/21, we delivered five million hours of flexible work through our non-clinical Members, working with almost 8,000 people. 


We saw how the pandemic changed the face of the non-clinical workforce. In Spring 2020, there was little demand for flexible non-clinical workers, due to the NHS strategy that all non-essential staff work from home where possible. However, as the country emerged from the initial lockdown from July 2020 onwards, we worked closely with the NHS and client Trusts to understand how we might help to bring the non-clinical workforce back into hospitals, as well as recruiting for a number of new roles. 


Vital connection


Examples included recruiting for a range of domestic professionals to ensure each hospital was sanitised effectively and in line with COVID-19 guidelines. With many people suddenly working from home, we also witnessed a significant spike in recruitment of digital professionals. We acted fast to mobilise large teams and, as part of the NHS digital strategy, we also began recruiting more flexible workers into the digital space to match the growing demand within Trusts. 


Our estates and facilities team grew in Summer 2020, having previously been one of our smaller areas. Two new, high-demand roles were ‘runners’, who took COVID-19 tests to and from the labs, playing a vital role in managing the virus. Another role was family liaison co-ordinator. They provided a vital connection for families unable to visit their loved ones and made sure patients could still communicate on the phone or online. 


In the run up to the second peak in Autumn 2020, with cases rising at an exponential rate each day and families still unable to visit hospitals, we worked with many Trusts to recruit security guards and ‘door guardians’. Many joined from furloughed or redundant roles, such as door and on-site security. Roles like these were critical in helping hospitals control the virus within the hospital as well as within communities.


As Justin Hall, NHSP’s Director of Non-Clinical Recruitment, said: “We were mobilising new roles, often within a 24-hour period, swiftly moving from recruiting for the usual administrative, clerical and estate teams to supporting a lot of different people into roles to help the NHS in its hour of need. The message became clear; that we don’t just recruit for the familiar roles, but many other specialties, including senior levels.”


Moving forward, we want to ensure our Member offer is sustainable, so when a Member joins NHSP non-clinical, they can choose placement opportunities if they so wish and look forward to developing a fully flexible, lifelong career with us. We also want them to have access to additional training and development platforms so they can maintain and grow their professional skills. Our aim is to make them feel truly valued and one of the team – because that’s exactly what they are.