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. 

On 21 April, SPF held a workshop on PPE, enabling partners to meet with Susan Hopkins, PHE, Emily Lawson, NHSE/I and Una Bennett, DHSC and get answers to key questions on the supply of PPE and the level of PPE that should be used in specific clinical procedures. These conversations will continue, with NHS Employers and national trade unions being the conduit for feeding up questions on PPE from their members and feeding back answers. Following the workshop, the SPF agreed on these key messages on PPE.

23 April saw the beginning of the Ramadan month. This year will of course be different, with COVID-19 restrictions having effects on many aspects of observance. These restrictions may have a negative impact on staff during an already difficult time. NHSE/I have worked in partnership with the NHS Muslim Network and British Islamic Medical Association to provide dedicated guidance for employers on how to support NHS workers.

NHSE/I have 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.

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 website.

For further information, including advice on informing staff, FAQs, and instructions on how to use the online booking system, visit the Public Health England website.

Guidance has been published to support employers 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.

NHSE/I 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 are held every Wednesday from 4pm to 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.

The SPF agreed a statement on industrial relations during COVID-19, which includes the of role trade unions in staff engagement, the importance of facilities time and the likely requirement to agree streamlined working relationships with trade union representatives. The statement also covers the potential for pausing disciplinary and employment procedures and the need to avoid industrial disputes. These measures will help maintain an effective partnership response to the pandemic. Read the full statement here.

Human resource directors and workforce leaders will face challenges in the coming months due to increased demands on services during the COVID-19 pandemic. DHSC, NHS England and NHS Improvement (NHSE/I), Public Health England (PHE), Health Education England (HEE) and NHS Employers have collated the latest workforce advice into one central resource for workforce leaders in the NHS. This resource provides advice on workforce issues expected to arise, such as staff returning from retirement, wellbeing and staff movement, as well as reiterating the importance of partnership working. The resource will be updated regularly to reflect the latest advice during a rapidly evolving situation. 

NHSE/I 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. NHSE/I 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. 

At the SPF Wider Group meeting in March, Prof Keith Willett, Medical Director, Acute Care and Preparedness and National Strategic Incident Director for COVID-19 for the NHS, provided a clear explanation of how the virus works, spreads and affects people and why that requires the current actions and response. Watch a video of Keith’s simple and informative explanation on Twitter.

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.

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.  

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. NHSE/I, 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.

The government has confirmed that the deadline for reporting on trade union facilities time (time off from an individual's job to carry out a trade union role), will be extended from 31 July 2020 until 30 September 2020. This date will be kept under review owing to the current pressures faced due to COVID-19. For full details, visit the NHS Employers website

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.