John Lister

NHS England has come up with a bonzer way to make up for the lack of pay and one million-plus staff feeling under-valued: dig up a long-forgotten “People Promise” – and bring in a private consultancy to try to make health workers feel “valued”.

Even better, dress up the whole exercise as “training” in which at least half the content  consists of staff sharing their own grim experiences of dealing with awkward and frustrated people on the front line.

Tell them they are getting a “trailblazing” on-line course – and prove it by quoting NHS staff saying it’s the first time anyone in the NHS has listened to them in 23 years!

NHSE obviously felt unable to develop its own serious initiative on Health and Wellbeing, not least because the tightening budget and the need to generate £12 billion-plus in “savings” by 2025 have meant the few welcome perks that were on offer to staff during the peak of the pandemic – free car parking, hot food for staff on night shifts, responsive support with mental health – have now been axed.

And while nurses, ambulance staff and others have taken to strikes and picket lines, NHSE knows they can’t solve the really big problem of the reduced and ever-shrinking real terms value of NHS pay without any move by government to cover the cost.

So they have wheeled in yet another consultancy firm, this time “global workplace-training and digital skills provider” escalla (with trendy lower-case ‘e’).

They have drawn up the first new online course, one that aims to help staff fend off verbal and physical abuse from angry patients, and to better care for themselves and others “with compassion”. All very useful, no doubt – especially when such problems are fuelled by chronic staff shortages, leaving staff barely able to cope with normal levels of demand, let alone the record post-pandemic backlog.

It’s a long way from focusing on staff wellbeing, recognition and reward. Nonetheless NHS England’s lead on Health and Wellbeing, Claire Parker and escalla’s Serena Field have now written an article claiming that by simply developing this first course to help staff cope, NHS England have been able to meet “some of the key commitments made in the NHS People Promise.”

The People Promise, now ringing more than a little hollow, as we have pointed out in The Lowdown was produced back in 2021, while many of the special pandemic period wellbeing measures were still in place, before inflation soared into double figures, and before the latest morale-sapping plunge in NHS performance.

It was NHS England’s attempt to substitute for a meaningful pay increase by developing its own on-line corporate waffle.

It promised that – by 2024 – nurses, doctors paramedics and all, should be able to declare that: “We are recognised and rewarded. A simple thank you for our day-to-day work, formal recognition for our dedication, and fair salary for our contribution. …..”

We now know that can only be achieved if the strikes succeed in forcing the government back from its confrontational stance.

Equally unlikely is the other main promise that depends on funding, and which flies in the face of the £10billion-plus backlog of NHS maintenance and the desperate shortages of NHS capacity:

“Wellbeing is our business and our priority … . We have what we need to deliver the best possible care – from clean safe spaces to rest in, to the right technology.”

Oblivious to all this, Claire Parker insists the new course helps staff to feel valued “and feel as though the NHS is investing in them and their skills.” And she claims, implausibly, that this “surely goes a long way to supporting some of the recruitment and retention issues…”

But the puffery on this initiative, published to senior NHS managers in the ever-servile National Health Executive magazine, ends with several plugs for escalla and its various other courses, indicating that the only tangible investment has been in fat fees to yet another private consultancy, rather than in the NHS or its own staff.


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