Getting millions of people vaccinated against coronavirus is a mammoth task for the NHS.
It requires the logistics and workforce that developed the rapid and heroic clinical practice and environments of the early pandemic.
Regrettably, that workforce is now exhausted. All healthcare organisations are becoming overwhelmed with the relentless pandemic workload whilst juggling priorities with the challenge of staff isolating and a workforce deficit.
We have enough ‘beds’: we don’t have sufficient nurses. Before the pandemic, there were more than 40,000 nursing vacancies.
It was, therefore, a logical move for the NHS to call on retired clinicians to help with the vaccination rollout. Nurses are especially skilled and experienced in administering injections: the vast majority are given by us.
Thousands of nurses and doctors have responded to the call but there is extensive grumbling that they are being met with unreasonable barriers of NHS bureaucracy that creates delays and inevitable despondency.
Requiring over 20 pieces of documentation, most with low relevance, is deterring colleagues at a time when they are desperately needed.
This news is not new. In April 2020, 70,000 retired or willing returners offered their clinical expertise. It is estimated only around 30,000 were processed: it is unclear how many were eventually used.
I was one that got through the bureaucracy. I recall the process was frustratingly long and laborious with information lost between numerous silo-working departments within the same NHS organisation despite my having current NMC registration and an enhanced DBS certificate.
Coming back to support staff shortages felt the right thing to do; it was reflected in thanks and praise I experienced from others. Unfortunately, it was not matched by the NHS culture and mechanisms. Disjointed IT systems and protocols governing contracted staff, were also required of me with minimal support or relevance. Management felt distant and I wished some nurses were kinder. Interestingly, I have never met another returner in the 9 months since I came back.
Ensuring the population are protected by a vaccine administered correctly by staff that are trained for the specific pandemic vaccination role is fundamental. Creating sensible responses to this crisis and the risks we face must be safe, proportionate and humane. But many clinicians offering their expertise are now loudly questioning whether the required training for de-radicalisation, conflict resolution and fire safety is really necessary for pandemic vaccinating. Others are not even completing the enrolment process.
To control this virus, the government need the population to modify our personal behaviour, manage our political beliefs and act ethically for the greater good of the country. NHS recruitment needs to be imaginative and adopt reasonable attitudes and processes that reflect the huge challenge we face.
The call to return to the NHS needs a simplified and efficient recruitment process. It might encourage more clinicians to return, and to remain, when this pandemic is over.
Recruitment of returners must be revitalised as the retention of long-serving nurses is not guaranteed. I might be one of them.