Supporting our customers during the rise of Omicron and the Covid-19 booster season

In the winter 2021/2022 period, the NHS continued to face extreme system pressures due to the Covid-19 pandemic. The sharp rise in Omicron cases meant that thousands of staff across the NHS were having to self-isolate or were on sick leave. To add to this, many NHS workers were redeployed to support with the Covid-19 booster campaign. The combination of these two factors on top of the common winter pressures seen each year in the NHS proved to be one of the biggest challenges the NHS has ever seen in terms of workforce.

In response to this, NHS London Procurement Partnership (NHS LPP) – part of the NHS Workforce Alliance – was approached by NHS England and Improvement Regional London Team, following feedback they had received from London trusts, to help respond to the staff shortage challenge by increasing agency uptake to ensure safe staffing of wards and departments within provider trusts.

The team worked closely with HR directors and staff bank managers across London NHS trusts as well as NHS England and Improvement London to set up an escalated rate card for London, along with a recommendation and options paper for six suppliers. This escalated rate card was made available for trusts to benefit from 24 December 2021 for a period of eight weeks.

These escalated rates were only made available if workers signed up for block bookings throughout this period (e.g. four shifts or more) in an attempt to decrease the risk of workers limiting their working hours for a higher pay rate and ensure greater control over safe staffing levels across London.

In addition to this work, the team continued to hold a series of weekly staff bank managers meetings for London trusts to discuss what was going on in the region and to support customers with workforce challenges in a very tight timeframe.

Key benefits of this project included:

  • Using just six suppliers for this work meant that NHS LPP was able to work closer with a smaller number to ensure call off contracts were managed appropriately and they stated block bookings, potential allocation on arrival and rebates if the workers leave within the period
  • Agency staff members received an escalated rate of pay if they met the requirements set out in the paper
  • A caveat of block bookings and allocation on arrival meant that the NHS organisation had the staff member for a longer term and not just on an adhoc basis, and they could place the agency staff member wherever was short-staffed on that particular day
  • Enabled workers who had left London due to high rates in other UK countries and regions, the ability to work back in the capital
  • Ensured patient safety was at the forefront by using a compliant framework supplier
  • Kept as an option for trusts if they needed to utilise and not a MUST
  • The weekly staff bank manager meetings gave the HR staff a support network to discuss challenges and receive regular guidance from NHS LPP advisors

Jodie Gardiner, Head of Workforce and Organisational Development at NHS England and Improvement, said: “Following a request for support, NHS LPP developed a proposed 'Safer Staffing Levels – Pan London Approach' to address significant staff shortages. The proposal recognised the staffing challenges across London and set out an approach in an attempt to support trusts to resolve staffing shortages by working with selected framework agencies to increase agency uptake.

“The proposal was welcomed and accepted by the service in time to cover the Christmas period and winter pressures beyond this. The proposal demonstrated robust analysis and a pragmatic short term solution during an exceptionally difficult period. The speed of design, agreement and implementation was both welcome and impressive.”

Stephanie Alexander, Assistant Director for Workforce at NHS LPP, said: “The work carried out to support our customers at a time when there were so many staffing shortages and sickness highlights the real benefits of collaborating between NHS organisations to ensure adequate staffing levels were in place to deliver patient care. All trusts were facing similar challenges to each other and we were able to act as a trusted advisor and offer market intelligence on what was happening across the NHS, as well as make operational changes in order to support these challenges.”

“Although this work was very much focused on collaborating with our London customers and stakeholders, we would absolutely be able to replicate in other parts of the country in response to other challenges where needed.”

The NHS Workforce Alliance has a wealth of knowledge and can support you in delivering solutions to a wide range of workforce challenges in tight timeframe across the country. If you are interested in finding out more about how we can support you, please email