Almost half the staff in the NHS (around 470,000 people) are in clinical support or infrastructure support roles – these include porters, administrators, medical secretaries, telephonists, cleaners, caretakers and laundry staff. These workers make up the operational services group in UNISON’s health group.
In ‘normal times’ these vital workers keep the NHS running, making sure patients and their families get the best treatment possible. But during the COVID-19 crisis, they’re pulling out all the stops, changing shifts, and often undertaking redeployment to assist where they’re most needed.
Chair of UNISON’s operational services committee Katie Hodgson (above) says: “People have gone from working five days a week to changing their working patterns to seven days a week including working over the weekend.
“Staff have really stepped up, it’s just what’s needed and they’re getting on with it. They’re committed and demonstrating the good will that NHS staff have.
“We’ve seen an awful lot of publicity around frontline support, and that’s the great thing about the NHS and its staff, we’re all cogs in the wheel.
“There’s a whole raft of people behind the scenes who have really stepped up to the mark, and we’re all part of one team and making this happen to support the patient and the service.”
UNISON’s One Team campaign aims to highlight the role of support staff in the NHS.
Katie usually works in admin for a clinical commissioning group (CCG) in Sheffield. Since last week, she has volunteered to be redeployed at a drive-in COVID-19 community testing centre.
“The local CCG has set up a testing centre for public service workers, like people who work in care homes or local government roles. Workers can book in online and then they just drive in,” she says.
“It’s carefully done. People book in, drive in and then two nurses will come and check their details and just do the swabs through the car window. You don’t even need to get out of the car, and if you don’t have a car, the CCG will arrange a taxi for you.”
She adds that the volunteers from the swabbing service are from all ranges of employment within the CCG, from managers to admin and clerical and receptionists.
“Different groups of staff are all coming together to do this. These staff have volunteered to change their roles temporarily and UNISON and management have worked together to ensure those who are able to become part of this effort are given the training and support they need.
“It feels really valuable to contribute and be part of this. It’s this kind of team effort and ethos of stepping up to do the job that makes me feel proud to be part of the NHS family”.
UNSION national officer Louise Chinnery adds: “NHS support staff like Katie have been making a huge contribution to dealing with COVID-19.
“Whether by adapting to working from home, making changes to working patterns, or volunteering to be part of the community testing effort, admin staff have shown how essential they are to the COVID-19 response.
“UNISON’s One Team campaign celebrates the almost half a million people that make up the support workforce in the NHS. During the current pandemic, the role these staff play in the health service has been shown to be vital.
“From cleaners providing infection control, porters moving seriously ill patients, laundry staff ensuring linen and clothing is clean to catering staff cooking nutritious meals for patients and staff – every one of them plays a crucial role in patient care.
“UNISON wants these workers to be recognised for the essential role they play both during the pandemic and every day.”
- UNISON stresses that redeployment to other roles should be done on a voluntary basis and in full consultation with UNISON and those workers who are potentially affected.