A year into the pandemic: NHS workforce challenges now “even greater than 12 months ago”

08 April 2021

Trust leaders have described in compelling detail the workforce challenges they faced as the COVID-19 pandemic took hold, and then returned in successive waves.

In The provider podcast: workforce one year on, the deputy chief executive of NHS Providers, Saffron Cordery, is joined by Richard Mitchell, chief executive at Sherwood Forest Hospitals NHS Trust and Siobhan Melia chief executive of Sussex Community NHS Foundation Trust to discuss the impact of the pandemic on the NHS workforce. Topics covered include:

In responding to the initial pressures from the pandemic, Richard Mitchell recalls how tired staff were as the NHS emerged from winter last year, with high numbers of vacancies. He describes the steps that allowed an effective response, by reducing bed occupancy and redeploying staff alongside a focus on staff welfare and wellbeing. In particular he pays tribute to the way staff returned to such a challenging work environment during the second and third waves. However, he concludes that "the challenge we're facing now is probably greater than the challenge we faced 12 months ago".

Saffron Cordery discusses how the pandemic reached into every part of the health system and peoples' lives, describing the "massive uptick of 999 and 111 rates, going through the roof". She explains how pandemic pressures led to a "restructuring" of the way mental health help was needed and sought, while mental health trusts redeployed staff to support acute services to deal with the "real and present danger" posed by the virus.

Siobhan Melia highlights the exhaustion of many community staff who were redeployed to contribute to the "greater good" of dealing with COVID-19, and are returning to their former roles only to face much larger waiting lists.

Both trust chief executives in the podcast recall having to "dig deep" to lead and support colleagues through extraordinary pressures.


Both trust chief executives in the podcast recall having to "dig deep" to lead and support colleagues through extraordinary pressures, emphasising the importance of being authentic, offering hope but acknowledging difficulties.

The discussion focuses on the way the pandemic has exposed inequalities, including the impact on colleagues from ethnic minorities. It reflects on steps taken to address these concerns and the need for further progress.

The trust chief executives also discuss the need for a better understanding of vaccine hesitancy in order to provide reassurance and improve uptake, while Saffron Cordery criticises the government's recent 1% pay proposal for NHS staff, and calls for a "properly rewarded workforce" that continues to work under extreme pressure.

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