The NHS holds a special place in all of our hearts - and never more so than during a global health crisis. Here, Julie Lewis Mackay, HR GO Regional Manager South, gives us insights into placing thousands of temp staff within the NHS at the height of the coronavirus pandemic last year.
Key workers have played a huge role in helping the UK get through the coronavirus pandemic. At HR GO, we’re proud to have been able to contribute towards this effort by finding staff for organisations keeping vital public services on track.
The largest of these of course has been the NHS which celebrates its 73rd birthday this week. Without a doubt 2020 was its most challenging year since it was founded in 1948.
As a recruitment agency with thousands of candidates registered for temp work, we’ve enjoyed a longstanding relationship with the NHS. We have have sourced non-clinical NHS staff through different suppliers including Serco, 2Gether Support Solutions, and G4S for many years.
But when coronavirus hit in March 2020, we saw a dramatic increase in urgent requests for temporary staff in our local hospitals as well as testing centres.
Our recruitment branches in part of the South region (in Ashford, Canterbury, Folkestone and Ramsgate in Kent) suddenly had ten times as many vacancies to fill compared to the same period the previous year.
As the weeks went by and the virus gathered pace, our clients in Kent needed more and more support with placing non-clinical roles - and I know HR GO branches in other areas of the UK experienced the same demand. Nationally, HR GO had around a thousand temp staff placed in NHS roles at one point at the height of the pandemic.
As a nation, we feel immense gratitude to the doctors, nurses and clinical medical staff who gave so much when this terrible pandemic hit. We can never repay them enough. But let’s not forget the non-clinical staff who also stepped up to help in our hospitals.
From the domestics and rapid response teams who cleaned Covid-19 patients’ rooms after they’d sadly passed away, to the linen assistants who sanitised bedding and laundry from an infected ward - and so many supporting functions in between… These unsung heroes have all played big parts in helping us get through the last year and a half.
As coronavirus took hold, the list of key worker roles we needed to fill - and fast - expanded.
We’ve ended up with around 30 plus non-clinical roles for people to work through the NHS in hospitals in our area. As well as domestic services assistants and linen assistants, the list included (and still includes): cooks and chefs, porters, housekeepers and customer support assistants. Not forgetting two in particular which have turned out to be synonymous with the age of coronavirus: temperature checkers and PPE assistants.
We know the NHS means a great deal to all of us, and to a great number of us it’s a very precious thing. At HR GO we saw this strength of feeling first hand. Registering a high volume of new temp staff for these key worker roles we’d get to hear people’s stories and motivations for coming forward.
Many of the new temp staff who joined our agency told us they’d been furloughed but still wanted to make a contribution to help. Others said they’d had Covid-19 themselves and wanted to give something back to the NHS - or that they’d lost a relative and wanted to repay the care they’d received before they passed away.
Naturally, a number of the temp staff we placed felt anxious about going onto the frontline if their work required them to be on a Covid-19 ward, for example.
There’s no doubt that hospitals were immensely tough places to work - and it proved too much for some temp staff. Understandably, some were so upset about the human cost of the virus they witnessed they didn’t feel they could continue. We did our best to allay their fears, and support them through what they were going through.
When lockdown hit, all HR GO staff were sent home to work. And in every team of every branch nationwide, it was all hands on deck.
I’d never compare our area of work to being on the NHS frontline, but from a recruitment perspective we’d never known such a high level of stress. It seemed like as soon as we filled roles, we had to ‘backfill’ them as others had to go and self-isolate at home.
It felt like a real team effort - during a time that sometimes felt like our generation's wartime. And we were 'doing our bit' knowing how crucial it was to fill each role as quickly as possible.
When so many of us were powerless against the force of the pandemic, it felt worthwhile to get up in the morning knowing we’d be making a valid contribution to our local NHS hospitals - places we or our loved ones might have relied on if the virus left us seriously ill.
We knew that every temp worker we were able to send out would be helping our NHS - and that felt really good.