Flexible working aided by the use of WhatsApp and video meetings underpin government proposals to be announced today to tackle staffing shortages and poor morale.
Health campaigners expressed disappointment at the launch of the long-awaited NHS People’s Plan, which it had been hoped would set out how targets for medical recruitment would be achieved.
Health secretary Matt Hancock was due to call on doctors to use WhatsApp for consultations. During the pandemic lockdown the number of GP face to face consultations has slumped – but most consultations have been by phone rather than video. A survey of practices has found that 90% of GPs say that their practice is now offering video and on-line consultation. Of 895 GPs in a survey, 70% said phone consultations had increased their efficiency.
Mr Hancock, speaking today at the Royal College of Physicians, was set to link the increased use of video-calls to improvements in flexible working. The plan will require all NHS jobs to be advertised as flexible – and will encourage employers to find ways to enable staff, including GPs, to undertake more work from home. Mr Hancock will also make a promise to reduce red-tape, asking for practice and NHS staff to submit complaints to the Department of Health about excessive paperwork. This might include treatment targets or excessive inspections, he will say.
He will say: “Every single person working in the NHS has contributed to an unprecedented national effort to beat back this virus and save lives. They have protected us and in return this Government will do everything in its power to protect and support them. Our NHS people deserve to get on with caring for patients and this crisis has proved there’s bureaucracy that our healthcare system can do better without. So I’m urging people across the NHS and social care to speak up about what red tape you can do without to allow you to better deliver the high-quality care you are renowned for.”
NHS chief people officer Prerana Issar said: “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 RCP has been expecting the plan to deliver a wide range of welfare improvements for doctors, including statutory services for trainees. President Professor Andrew Goddard said: “Over the last four months NHS staff have been through a lot and we owe it to them to ensure that their wellbeing is a priority in the year ahead. We know the culture has got to change but we also need to do the small things that make a real difference; such as 24/7 access to hot food, a guarantee that rotas will be published on time, and areas for rest, study and reflection.
“However, we must also ensure that the people plan delivers more staff. We have got to train more nurses and doctors to ensure that in the years ahead we reduce rota gaps and ensure that we can meet the needs of patients. But we can’t just do more of the same we also need to embrace the new roles including physician associates. We can start by introducing statutory regulation and creating posts for them across the NHS.”
Suzie Bailey, from the King’s Fund, said: “It’s been over a year since the NHS People Plan was originally due to be launched, yet today’s publication is another interim stop-gap and falls a long way short of the workforce strategy the NHS so desperately needs. Delays to government spending decisions mean the plan lacks the long term investment and concrete commitments needed to recruit the doctors, nurses and other staff needed to address workforce shortages and meet the government’s manifesto commitments. Even before the pandemic, the UK health and care workforce was in a state of crisis, with high levels of work-related stress, reports of overworked staff looking to leave their jobs, and a shortage of around 40,000 nurses.”
She added: “Although today’s plan includes some welcome measures to support the health and wellbeing of staff and tackle discrimination, warm words will be worth little without a credible implementation plan.”