Written evidence submitted by The Health and Care Professions Council (WBR0052)

 

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Response to COVID-19

 

In order to help our Registrants focus on their important responsibilities during this exceptional and uncertain time, we quickly introduced a range of measures to ease the impact for Registrants whilst continuing to protect the public. More information can be found on our Covid-19 hub.

 

Summary

 

 

Introduction

 

The HCPC regulates 15 professions, amongst them paramedics, physiotherapists, operating department practitioners and biomedical scientists, They, and many other of our professionals, have played such an important role in protecting the NHS, ensuring continuity and keeping the public and health and care workers safe. Looking forward, they will be crucial in helping tackle the anticipated second wave of COVID-19; the impact of annual flu; the necessary rehabilitation services; and the understandable backlog of cases awaiting treatments which may become urgent.

 

Call for evidence

 

How resilient was the NHS and social care workforce under pre-COVID-19 operating conditions, and how might that resilience be strengthened in the future?

 

The health and care workforce, pre-COVID-19, faced significant challenges in relation to continuing to meet standards in the face of reduced workforce numbers and increasing caseloads. We have seen this evidenced through the increasing volumes of enquiries received from Registrants to the HCPC in relation to managing the issue of expanding scope of practice. For example, some operating department practitioners have been required to carry out tasks outside of their remit, and some physiotherapists have had to perform an increasingly psychological function in the face of remote working

 

What has the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic been on resilience, levels of workforce stress, and burnout across the NHS and social care sectors?

 

Our regular discussions with Registrants indicate that existing pressures (in particular around their expanding scope of practice) have remained, but that increased demand on services and lack of clarity on key issues (such as regulations on use, and availability, of PPE) have led to even higher levels of anxiety and burnout. We have seen increased volumes of concerns raised with us in relation to these issues.

 

COVID-19 has caused disruption and has created a challenging environment for service users and Registrants. However, we are clear that Registrants should continue to follow the Standards of conduct, performance and ethics. To help Registrants, we created guidelines on how to manage risk, which include a section on what do when the appropriate PPE equipment is not available. 

 

What is the current scale of workforce burnout across NHS and social care?  How does it manifest, how is it assessed, and what are its causes and contributing factors?  To what extent are NHS and care staff able to balance their working and personal lives?

 

Our experience of the current scale of workforce burnout across NHS and social care is based on intelligence we gather via enquiries and engagement activities with Registrants. From these discussions, we consider increased demands on staff, exacerbated by low staff levels, to be the strongest contributory factor. Our Registrants are increasingly being asked to take on new roles and functions with little support and training and are looking to the regulator to provide reassurance as to how they can continue to meet their standards and protect patients.

 

 

What are the impacts of workforce burnout on service delivery, staff, patients and service users across the NHS and social care sectors? 

 

There is an increase in workload pressure on individuals. We are aware of reduced levels of effective communication between Registrants, challenges with meeting record keeping requirements, and a reduction of supervision – both from those seeking supervision and those supervising. These factors all lead to a potential increase in risk to the health and wellbeing of both patients and healthcare professionals.

 

What long term projections for the future health and social care workforce are available, and how many more staff are required so that burnout and pressure on the frontline are reduced? To what extent are staff establishments in line with current and future resilience requirements?

 

Given our specific remit and responsibilities we are not in a position to comment on this.

 

To what extent are there sufficient numbers of NHS and social care professionals in training for service and resilience planning? On what basis are decisions made about the supply and demand for professionals in training? 

 

Given our specific remit and responsibilities we are not in a position to comment on this.

 

Will the measures announced in the People Plan so far be enough to increase resilience, improve working life and productivity, and reduce the risk of workforce burnout across the NHS, both now and in the future? 

 

The vision set out in the People Plan so far does appear to cover the areas required, but we eagerly await the developments and accompanying metrics.

 

We believe that right touch, proportionate, risk-based regulation is the most effective way to keep patients and service users safe, while enabling and supporting the professionals we regulate to innovate and adapt to the rapidly changing world of healthcare. This is something the HCPC has been calling for, but it requires a significant modernisation of the regulatory framework.

 

What further measures will be required to tackle and mitigate the causes of workforce stress and burnout, and what should be put in place to achieve parity for the social care workforce?

 

Delivering real cultural change across all levels of management within the NHS; reducing inappropriate expectations of staff and ensuring they feel genuinely valued and listened to will take significant investment, resources and sustained focus.

 

The COVID-19 pandemic vividly illustrates the importance and value of innovation, pragmatism and decisiveness. In professional regulation, a new legislative framework is urgently needed if we are to move beyond pre-pandemic ways of working. Regulation needs to be data-driven, targeted, responsive and good value. Possibilities include streamlined international processes (especially relevant for paramedics); facilitating comparable qualifications assessments and online assessments.

 

There is also a need for Fitness to Practise reforms regarding having an operating framework less prescribed in legislation, which provides regulators with greater flexibility. For example, some regulators had to seek Privy Council approval for emergency rules changes to allow them to serve documents electronically and hold hearings remotely during the pandemic.

 

For further information please contact:

 

Jacqueline Ladds

Executive Director, Policy & External Relations

HCPC

 

 

Sept 2020