How has Covid-19 impacted the NHS workforce?

Skills for Health has reported ‘wider than expected consequences’ on the NHS workforce.

How has Covid-19 impacted the NHS workforce?

Covid-19 has affected every industry in the country, so it’ll come as no surprise that the NHS workforce has been significantly impacted by the pandemic.

As soon as the pandemic hit, the already stretched NHS was under extreme pressure. Health and social care workers had to adapt to new working practices, increased patient numbers, unknown treatment plans, a lack of PPE and a loss of skills and staff. It’s been an unprecedented time – and it’s not over yet.

In their latest report, Skills for Health confirmed that the pandemic has had ‘wider than expected consequences’ on the NHS workforce. The sector has suffered severe skills loss and will need to dramatically increase training to recover.

Impact on skills

Out of almost 3,000 NHS workers surveyed, 22.7% said that skills have been lost due to Covid-19. Some staff have left their role due to the increased pressure at work, or even retired early – resulting in the loss of highly experienced, skilled staff. Others have had to self-isolate or stay at home to care for family members suffering from Covid-19. In some cases, experienced staff have died due to Covid-19 or have long-term health issues after recovering from the virus.

This means that valuable skills have been lost altogether or on a long-term basis.

Andrew Lovegrove from Skills for Health said: “The immediate fallout from Covid-19 is going to be with us for a long time. We need to think differently; not just about how we deliver our services but crucially, about who is going to provide them and in what way.”

Some NHS trusts have employed unskilled people who have been furloughed from other industries as healthcare assistants. They’ve then had to move skilled staff around to try to fill clinical skills gaps. When these healthcare assistants return to their own industries, the sector will need to replace them.

Increased training need

The NHS will need to replace any skilled employees that have left or been lost to Covid-19. They’ll also need to replace or retrain any unskilled support workers who joined during the pandemic. It’s going to be a huge undertaking for the sector: 72.2% of NHS staff say that training needs have increased due to Covid-19.

On top of replacing specific roles, the NHS workforce will need additional training to cope with increasing pressures. In the report, 95% of respondents said that infection prevention and control will be a key future skill. Over 95% also agreed that dealing with out-of-the-ordinary situations would be crucial for the future.

Training in soft skills like managing uncertainty and empowering staff is also needed – as well as digital skills for remote working.

What does this mean for the future?

This report has helped the NHS assess the impact Covid-19 has had on its workforce and identify the areas of training need. The NHS is going to have a lot of training to do – both for new recruits and existing staff. It’s going to be a huge undertaking, but at least the NHS has available funds to spend on training.

As the UK’s largest employer, the NHS contributes over £200 million to the apprenticeship levy every year – a pot of money earmarked for the NHS to spend on apprenticeship training.

Each trust accrues levy funds each month in their own AS (apprenticeship service) account to spend on training. There’s a huge range of relevant apprenticeships available to the NHS – from pharmacy assistant to registered nurse. Apprentices gain the specific skills they need for the role, as well as practical experience of working in a healthcare setting. They also learn on the job, so staff will be on the ward from day one – which is good news for trusts struggling for staff numbers.

Apprenticeships have always been a great option for NHS trusts, and now more than ever, apprenticeships could be the future of the NHS workforce.

To find out more about NHS apprenticeships and how your trust can pay for training using your levy funds, download your NHS guide to the apprenticeship levy.

Download guide

This article includes research and opinion sourced by OneFile at the time of publication. Things may have changed since then,
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