Supporting our doctors and Trusts through the pandemic

Supporting our doctors and Trusts through the pandemic


Donna Lee, Operations Director

Not surprisingly, and like most of my colleagues in the NHS, COVID-19 has dominated my year. In March, we asked healthcare professionals to Stand Up, Step Forward and Save Lives and the response we received was beyond all expectations. The volume of people that answered our call was incredible. For Doctors Direct it came with its own complexities.

In the early days and weeks of the pandemic, we needed to understand the flexible staffing resource that the NHS required to cope. There was also a dip in ‘business as usual’ activity, as standard services and elective procedures were cancelled. So the demand for doctors in some areas was less than usual.

As a result, one of our biggest challenges was that, while the demand in some areas was pressing, it didn’t extend to all specialties. Many of the doctors who stepped up weren’t immediately required. And, understandably, while many individuals wanted to help, they were frustrated at not being immediately deployed.

Our immediate response

What we didn’t know straight away were the precise skills and experience needed in the Nightingale Hospitals or on COVID wards in NHS Trusts. Simultaneously, there was a need for doctors to deliver some, but not all, non-COVID services in NHS Trusts. Our challenge was to match the right doctors to meet the somewhat unknown demand – and fast.

In the face of this uncertainty, we needed to deliver a responsive and agile service. At the same time, when patient safety and patient lives are at stake, quality is always important. It was a learning process, and we improved our systems to increase the speed we deployed doctors, without compromising on quality and safety.

NHS Nightingale Hospital North West

Working with the NHS Nightingale Hospital North West, we recruited and onboarded a large number of doctors in a 2-6 week timeframe. It was a true partnership approach.

Communication was clear throughout about the resource needed and who was to be deployed. We screened every CV in close collaboration with the Hospital’s Clinical Leads. Following up with compliance and governance checks in order to onboard doctors rapidly and safely. This was all supported by an on-site presence from our medical staffing managers.

We know that this process sometimes took longer than it should have done. We’re working hard to build and maintain these relationships to ensure those doctors can be deployed to meet the future need. And while setting up the Nightingale Hospitals, we have also established relationships with new Trusts, opening up opportunities for doctors to work with them in the future.

Where we are now

As the pandemic has progressed, the biggest learning for us all is our understanding of COVID-19. From how the virus is transmitted and its common symptoms, to which people need hospital care and the most effective treatment protocols. As a result, we now know what staffing resource is needed and where and when doctors are best utilised.

We also understand the transferable skills that can be used for different types of roles to meet those different needs. For doctors, this means that we can find the right shifts and placements. For example, some doctors who stepped up in the first wave, who weren’t initially deployed, are now effectively meeting the current need. This includes retired GPs and doctors for Test and Trace, as well as the national immunisation programme.

Ongoing support

During the first lockdown, our doctors told us that they needed support, especially with ongoing learning and development. We introduced our Lockdown Lectures to provide an opportunity to earn CPD points and a means for two-way communication, creating a great community. These online lectures helped us to learn more about what is on our doctors' agenda and what they need from us.

Our Medical Advisory Group also plays an important role in supporting doctors. Group members are all practising doctors working across a wide range of specialties. They feed back into us what life is like and what challenges our doctors are facing, as well as providing guidance about how we might help address these challenges.

Pride in the NHS and Doctors Direct

I’ve been incredibly proud to help our doctors play a vital role in the pandemic response. And to be part of the Doctors Direct team playing a role ourselves, by supporting doctors who made the decision to step forward and save lives.

The team here worked hard to deploy doctors and meet a national need. We got the right people, in the right place, at the right time. And we will continue to do so as the need for qualified, professional and highly trained doctors continues to be a top priority for our country and the NHS.