HR, Admin and Support staff also need our appreciation. By Dean Royles

One hell of a journey. Please also give it up for our key-working NHS HR, Admin and support staff – they need our appreciation too.

The extended lockdown period has certainly had an impact on our mood with many people feeling down and low. But If anyone is looking for some motivation or inspiration at the moment, you needn’t look much further than your local hospital, GP surgery, pharmacy or vaccination centre. It is at sites like these that hundreds of thousands of people are being given their lifesaving jabs every day, which offers a side-helping of hope and freedom.  At long last, it feels there’s a real sense that green shoots of recovery from this life shattering pandemic are finally beginning to sprout. I have more than my fingers crossed!

From my perspective, the vaccination rollout, coupled with the continued delivery of both COVID, emergency and urgent care, is testament to the incredible commitment of not only our NHS doctors and nurses, but also the legions of behind-the scenes-heroes.

Those that work in the NHS will know I am referring to the essential team members who keep the healthcare wheels in motion day in day out, and without whom the whole NHS system – from community health centres to intensive care wards – would grind to a halt. They are the cleaners, the porters and the receptionists; they are the payroll teams, the HR managers, the rota coordinators, the administrators and the procurement teams. They are the people also working incredibly long hours (some on very low wages), who, like those providing hands on care must also juggle childcare with other important responsibilities at home.

Over the past year, these essential individuals (whom I am proud to call my colleagues) have seen their workloads soar. But this has sadly not yet been matched with pay rises, universal mental health support or extra time off to recuperate. The increased patient admission figures, intensified cleaning regimes, recruitment drives and elevated rates of staff sickness have all piled work directly onto the plates of these essential team members. Now is the time for radical (but crucially, sustainable) changes to working patterns to be developed and implemented.

Why do we need to take such urgent action to prevent burnout amongst our NHS support staff? Well, for a start, PPE does not just appear in the lockers of doctors and nurses. It has to be sourced, budgeted, ordered, distributed and cleaned, and every step of this process involves many hard-working staff members whose work often goes uncelebrated. The doctors, nurses, Allied Health Professionals and scientists delivering care to patients on crowded wards would not be there but for the hours of work put in by teams of staffing managers and recruiters, and the hospital lights would literally go out without the efforts of the behind-the-scenes maintenance workers and IT teams. The same can be said for ensuring staff are paid on time, training and developing staff, paying bills, I could go on…

The truth is, within the complex interconnected system that is the NHS, pressure cannot be isolated or contained. Stressful situations take their toll on everyone, but humans aren’t just made of carbon, and pressure won’t turn them into diamonds. It’s high time that we awarded the same accolades, praise and recognition to all NHS staff, alongside those with the important, well deserved headline-grabbing stories to tell. And then we must translate this recognition into action; action on workforce policies that delivers a long-term positive change to their mental and physical wellbeing of our key workers. We have to promote self-care. Cakes and glazed donuts only go so far. Although there are some great initiatives supporting our staff, they are often reliant on short-term or charitable funding. We have to go further, and faster.

I want to see bottom-up policies that put control directly into the hands of workers, that grant autonomy and flexibility, and that recognize and accommodate the messy reality of human lives. And because, as we all know, the vaccine roll-out is only the start of a long road to recovery, such changes need to be enacted with immediate effect. If we don’t, staff will be on their knees when we need them at their motivated best.

I, amongst many others, have been calling for this change for the past few years, but I’ve never seen and felt the urgency of the situation more than I do now. We can paint our own silver linings on the dark clouds of the past year, and seize this chance to see profound, sustainable changes made to the very foundations of the NHS workforce model. We have already achieved great things together over the past year; now let’s make it possible for even higher peaks to be climbed in the future.