Promoting partnership working in the NHS


Coronavirus (COVID-19) poses some enormous challenges for the NHS workforce. The SPF represents a key strength of the service in its unique partnership between employers and the trade unions working collaboratively with the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) and the arm’s length bodies. The SPF is adapting its way of working during the pandemic through meeting more frequently, online or via teleconference, to enable the sharing of key intelligence and prompt action – as and when required. 

Infection prevention and control – February 2021

Following a request from trade union members of the COVID-19 SPF Engagement Group, Sara Gorton and Rebecca Smith the co-chairs of the group wrote to Susan Hopkins, Test and Trace and PHE Joint Medical Advisor and Ruth May, Chief Nursing Officer, NHS England to ask whether PHE, along with NHS England, DHSC and the public health bodies from the devolved nations, have reviewed or plan to review COVID-19: Guidance for maintaining services within health and care settings Infection prevention and control recommendations, as a result of the new variant of the Coronavirus originally identified in Kent.

The co-chairs received a helpful response, which states that the ‘Infection Prevention and Control guidance… has been updated to reflect the most up-to-date scientific understanding of how to prevent and control COVID-19 infection.’ The letter also states ‘Following extensive clinical and scientific review, no changes to the recommendations, including Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), have been made in response to the new variant strains at this stage. However, this position will remain under constant review.’

The letter is a timely reminder for employers to work in partnership with trade union health and safety reps to ensure safe systems of work for their staff. Although the COVID-19: Infection prevention and control recommendations set out levels of personal protection equipment, the SPF would encourage employers to work with their local trade union reps to respond to concerns and requests from groups of staff around the level of PPE, especially from those who may have less employee voice in the organisation.

All staff, patients and visitors need to follow the basic infection prevention and control measures such as social distancing and transmission-based precautions (contact, droplet and airborne) such as handwashing, surface wiping and face coverings. These can easily be overlooked, or people can become fatigued and forget but it is important that staff, patients and visitors adhere to these measures at all times for their own safety and protection.

We know that many NHS sites and buildings present unique challenges to implementing this guidance. Whether it is staff rooms that are too small or corridors where people cannot easily socially distance, safe systems of work should be in place but if staff are concerned, they should raise these.

The SPF recommends that employers use their infection prevention and health and safety leads to work with local line managers to ensure risk assessments are regularly updated and any changes communicated with staff.

COVID-19 vaccination programme workshop – January 2021

On 20 January 2021, NHS England and NHS Improvement and Health Education England ran an online workshop to enable employer and trade union members of the national SPF to get answers to questions on the COVID-19 vaccination programme. Read a summary of the discussion.

The national SPF has issued the following information which clarifies there will not be another England wide industrial relations (IR) statement. Instead partners will need to keep under review local IR arrangements.

Guidance in delivering the winter flu vaccination programme 

The SPF continues to encourage a partnership approach between employers and trade unions to encourage NHS staff to get vaccinated against winter flu. Resources and guidance can be found on this dedicated web page. 

NHS England and Improvement (NHSEI) released a press release on 16 September, stating the importance of this years' campaign.

COVID-19 sickness management FAQs

Responses to frequently asked questions are now available to help you with managing sickness absence relating to COVID-19. Download the document, which has been published by a working group of the NHS Staff Council Executive.

COVID-19 guidance

To support NHS workforce leaders face challenges resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic, DHSC, NHSEI, HEE, PHE and NHS Employers have collated related workforce advice into one central resource. This resource, which reiterates the importance of partnership working, is regularly reviewed and updated.


The government extended the deadline for reporting on trade union facilities time (time off from an individual's job to carry out a trade union role), from 31 July 2020 until 30 September 2020. For full details, visit the NHS Employers website.

Supporting our working carers

There are an estimated 250,000 unpaid carers working in the NHS, and balancing work and caring responsibilities can be hugely challenging, both practically and emotionally. COVID-19 continues to have a significant impact, with carers often looking after relatives or neighbours who are vulnerable, whilst also facing a more stressful time at work. If you’re a carer, or supporting a working carer in your organisation, you can use the Working Carer’s Passport to have a conversation about caring responsibilities and access practical tools, useful resources and further support online.

Second Victim Support

The SPF is proud to endorse Second victim support - a resource for clinicians and managers who are involved in a patient safety incident, their colleagues and the organisations they work for.

Liberate Meditation app

The Liberate meditation app offers culturally sensitive and diverse meditations curated for the BAME community. It is now available free to all staff in the NHS.

Wellbeing webinars

NHSEI has launched a series of wellbeing webinars, aimed at anyone who has a role supporting NHS workforce wellbeing during the COVID-19 pandemic. These sessions offer expert advice and share best practice on how best to help staff through challenging times. They were being held weekly, but are now every second Wednesday of the month from 4pm - 5pm, and are recorded, so anyone not able to join the live webinar can watch the session back later. Visit NHS Horizons, to find information on upcoming sessions, watch recordings of previous sessions, and sign up for the Caring4NHSpeople news updates.

Free Wellbeing apps for NHS staff 

NHSEI has compiled a number of useful mental health and wellbeing resources, which are all being offered for free to NHS staff until the end of December this year. NHSEI recognise the importance of looking after the mental health and wellbeing of both staff and patients, especially during these challenging times. Unmind, Headspace, Sleepio and Daylight are the first apps being included in this offer, with many more to follow in the coming weeks. Find out more about these apps, including how NHS staff can claim free access. 

Family guidance

NHSEI has worked in collaboration with Tavistock and Portman NHS Foundation Trust to produce guidance on communicating with children around COVID-19. This written and audio guidance focuses on how key workers may approach difficult conversations about their role with children and other family members.

The HelpHub, set up by psychotherapist Ruth Chaloner, provides free emotional support for people who need someone to talk to during the pandemic. This may be useful if family or friends of NHS workers have anxieties concerning COVID-19, and need someone to discuss these with, other than the NHS worker themselves.

Health and wellbeing number for bereavement support

NHSEI has launched a dedicated bereavement support line for NHS workers experiencing bereavement during this time. This is in addition to several health and wellbeing resources being offered to NHS staff during the pandemic. Details of the support line, as well as other support available, can be found here.

NHS staff support hotline 

On Wednesday 8 April, NHS England launched a telephone hotline, as well as a 24hour text service, to support the mental wellbeing of its 1.4 million staff during the COVID-19 pandemic. The services will be staffed by thousands of volunteers, trained to give support and advice to NHS staff, as well as to signpost to other services ranging from financial advice to bereavement and psychological support. The phone line will be open from 7am to 11pm every day, while the text service will be 24 hours.

Read the full press release from NHS England here.

Domestic abuse during COVID-19

During COVID-19 domestic abuse charities and other organisations are reporting an increase in cases. Kate Davies, Director of Health and Justice, Armed Forces and Sexual Assault Referral Centres, and Kenny Gibson, Head of Safeguarding have written to key clinicians and system leaders on domestic abuse during COVID-19. This letter contains advice and resources to ensure that the NHS is taking the right action to identify, safeguard and care for individuals in these very difficult circumstances.

The right of NHS staff to speak up and effective communication during the COVID-19 pandemic

Prerena Issar, Chief People Officer, NHSEI, has written a blog on the right of NHS staff to speak up and effective communication during the COVID-19 pandemic. This blog stresses the importance of NHS employees’ right to speak up in ensuring the best patient care and worker wellbeing and provides helpful signposting to speaking up policy and a directory of Freedom to Speak Up Guardians.

COVID-19 App guidance

The NHS COVID-19 App team have issued updated guidance on the use of the app in the workplace. Visit the website to find this guidance. The guidance includes clarification on when to pause the app while working in a healthcare setting as well as general information and FAQs.

Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) Strategy 

With PPE remaining a key issue during the COVID-19 pandemic, on 28 September the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) published a paper outlining PPE strategy going into winter and beyond.

Risk assessments for staff

Guidance has been published to support employers to carry out risk assessments for staff whose role exposes them to COVID-19 and actions which employers can take to keep staff safe. See NHS Employers website to access this guidance.

Risk Reduction Framework for NHS staff at risk of COVID-19 infection

An expert working group at the University of Leicester developed a Risk Reduction Framework for health and care staff at risk of COVID-19 infection. This framework was developed in response to identify those who may be at greater risk of infection or adverse outcomes from COVID-19.

The framework is also in response to the concerns about deaths amongst black and minority ethnic healthcare workers. The aim of the framework is to better protect the workforce and help the NHS deal with current pressures.

This is the first framework, developed using current evidence, and the advice will be reviewed as further evidence emerges.  

Deploying our people safely

The COVID-19 pandemic means that existing and returning staff are being rapidly deployed into new roles, often working at the limits or beyond their normal scope of practice. NHSEI, along with HEE and other partners, have published a guide summarising key considerations for safe redeployment of staff and deployment of those staff temporarily supporting the NHS. The SPF has also issued a position statement related to safe deployment of staff.

Briefing on testing 1 May 

After the success of the SPF briefing on PPE, a similar briefing on testing was held on 1 May. Professor John Newton, Director of Health Improvement, Public Health England (PHE), Nicola Hunt, COVID-19 Testing Lead, NHSEI, Deputy Chief Scientific Officer at NHSEI Angela Douglas, and DHSC Director for Testing, Kathy Hall, joined SPF partners to update on the progress of the testing strategy. This included capacity, turnaround times, access, and effectiveness, as well as reflections on current results of testing on staff.

The briefing celebrated the efforts of the healthcare science workforce, provided assurance on the high scientific rigour being applied to testing including quality assurance of labs and testing centres. Capacity is constantly being developed to increase testing with rapid advances in technology and science improving testing methods to make them more effective.

Scientific evidence is being collected around the effectiveness of testing asymptomatic staff as part of infection control methods and this will determine policy, initial results are showing low levels of infection. NHS staff can, and should, seek testing via their employer or the national portal where they have symptoms. Decisions on prioritisation of spare testing capacity are being made regionally. Scientific endeavour is being used to examine and understand the impact of the virus on certain demographic groups, including BAME. Care home staff and care home residents are particularly vulnerable groups and need support to manage spread and infection control. Further discussions will take place through the SPF on the approach to general testing of staff.

SPF reflections on briefing 

• General testing for NHS staff should be available based on risk assessment and likelihood of exposure.

• Advice for staff who receive test results should be to speak to their employer, supported by their trade union, to assess the risk of a return to work based on clinical risk, patient safety and controlling of risk to family and patients. Advice from occupational health may also be needed.

• Regional SPFs and local partnerships should be engaged over decisions for prioritising spare testing capacity.

Essential workers can now book tests for themselves and their household via a new online portal on This will make the process of getting an appointment quicker and easier, with more allocations become available each day. The online booking service will apply to England and Scotland only, but full details on how to access testing in all nations and who is eligible can be found on the GOV.UK website.

Workforce sharing agreement in Yorkshire & Humber

The response to the COVID-19 pandemic has led to a renewed focus on staff moving between organisations to support better integrated health and social care services. The Yorkshire & Humber regional SPF agreed a workforce sharing agreement which can be used to facilitate these arrangements by providing a mechanism to ensure necessary assurances and support is in place for employers and employees.

Life assurance scheme detail and eligibility criteria

In the event of a staff member dying in the course of work related to COVID-19, a lump sum payment of £60,000 will be made to their estate where the Secretary of State is reasonably satisfied that certain eligibility criteria have been met. The scheme is administered by the NHS Business Services Authority (NHS BSA). Further details on the eligibility criteria can now be found on the NHS BSA website. NHS Employers has updated staff guidance for employers on their website to reflect the latest advice on the scheme, as well as producing a flowchart to clarify the claims process.

Overtime payments

NHS Employers and trade unions agreed a joint national proposal on overtime relating to COVID-19. This includes shift time overruns, overtime as opposed to bank staff hours, and overtime for bands 8 and 9. This was reviewed by the Secretary of State, who has favoured a local approach rather than this national proposal. The NHS Staff Council Executive published guidance to support conversations on the introduction of local temporary changes to overtime payments made to staff during the COVID-19 emergency and its aftermath.

Indemnity for NHS staff providing social care services

A number of NHS organisations have deployed staff in social care settings to support them during the pandemic. NHS Resolution has confirmed that as care/nursing homes do not undertake NHS healthcare work, the NHS indemnity schemes it runs do not apply. The NHS Confederation wrote to the DHSC, and has received this response from Helen Whately MP, Minister of State for Care, stating that, where NHS staff are being loaned to work in care homes, working under the direction of the care provider to provide the services of the care provider, they will be covered by the care provider’s indemnity arrangements. To reflect this advice, there is now updated indemnity guidance on the Skills for Care website.