As the biggest supplier of flexible staff to the NHS, retention is now just as important to us as recruitment, writes Juliette Cosgrove, chief nurse at NHS Professionals

As we head into Spring, there is a sense the pandemic’s darkest days may be behind us. Covid-19 has taken a terrible toll on millions of people and, as the recent rise in cases shows, it is by no means finished. But thanks to mass vaccination, we may now have the upper hand.

While this is very good news, and we should remain positive about all we’ve achieved together to reach this point, we now face the challenge of recovery. Strategically, the NHS needs to achieve integration so patients can enjoy more effective health and care services with a focus on prevention. Operationally, Trusts face elective backlogs that will take many months to clear.

Sponsored byNHS Professionals Logo

And then there is our people. There is mounting evidence the pandemic has left the NHS with a legacy of exhaustion and, as one A&E doctor described it recently, “weariness”. Fatigue is a fact of life in the NHS and it was there well before Covid-19. But the sheer physical and emotional scale of the pandemic has pushed things to a new level.

With the supply of domestic healthcare staff not expected to increase significantly in the next 2-3 years, we are left with an obvious conclusion: the health, well-being and resilience of our current workforce and retaining them for as long as possible is now the critical issue.


As the biggest supplier of flexible staff to the NHS, retention is now just as important to us as recruitment. We have around 180,000 clinical and non-clinical Bank Members, a large proportion of whom work on the front line. Working flexibly gives them a greater sense of control over work and life, which can benefit health and well-being, but they are still exposed to the demands of the job.

Our role is to help trusts fill shifts and meet safe staff-patient ratios. We are fully committed to that by default. But we are also 100 per cent committed to our Bank Members as people. It’s about the person, and their longer-term health and well-being.

More specifically, it’s about our relationship with our Bank Members, and making this truly people-centred. Much of our work is pointed in this direction already. Last year, for example, we increased Member mental health and well-being resources and created a firm member “promise”, as follows:

“We promise to welcome, support and celebrate our Bank Members as part of our flexible working community; benefiting their lifestyle, their career and our NHS.”

Another key area is investing in high-quality Member continuous professional development and training tools so they can enjoy a flexible career for life. Our Healthcare Support Worker Development Programme, for example, has already trained 1,000 people this financial year in 28 NHS trusts across England. We’re also upgrading our IT systems so they are more people-centred and intuitive.

From transactional to personal

Deeper than this, where appropriate we’re taking a more personalised approach to Members who haven’t engaged with us for a while. Crucially, rather than simply contacting them and offering them a shift, we’re taking steps to understand why they’ve not been working and asking if there is anything more we can do to support them.

Asking more personal and less transactional questions opens up the conversation and builds a healthier relationship. In some cases, these conversations have led us to take small, humane actions, such as sending flowers or food parcels at difficult times.

Nudging” the issue in this way, alongside bigger-scale recruitment and retention initiatives, means our Bank Members receive a higher quality experience that’s more-in tune with their personal circumstances, and we’re big on that. We also increase overall shift-fill rates in the long run, through more consistent Member engagement and well-being practices.

The ultimate winner here is, of course, the NHS and its patients. If every one of our Bank Members did just one more shift per month, then we could add almost five million more clinical hours a year to the NHS, or nearly 30,000 whole time equivalent employees. That’s a powerful incentive and it will drive us forward in the coming months as we do our utmost to support the NHS.

Peak performance

As anyone who’s climbed a mountain knows, coming down can sometimes be harder than going up. NHS staff have used up vast energy reserves over the past two years as they scaled mountain C-19”.

Now, perhaps, as we enter the recovery phase and hopefully come back down the rock face, we see a whole set of new challenges and the task is just as tough. But by focusing holistically on the people we have, we give ourselves the best possible chance of a safe journey home.