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How are people teams responding to coronavirus? ...King’s College Hospital NHS Foundation Trust

29 Apr 2020 By Eleanor Whitehouse

People Management finds out what employers are doing to tackle the logistical, financial and staff wellbeing implications of the global pandemic

The organisation

King’s College Hospital NHS Foundation Trust is one of the largest teaching and acute trusts in the UK, treating more than 1.5 million patients a year. It employs more than 13,000 staff across its five hospital sites in south-east London and Kent, including King’s College Hospital in Camberwell, south London, and the Princess Royal University Hospital near Bromley.

The impact so far

With all outpatient and non-urgent patient contacts cancelled, the trust has worked hard to move staff from those areas to others where they are more needed, including the emergency department, acute medicine and critical care, and converting existing wards to be able to treat patients with Covid-19. 

Redeployment and upskilling of staff

“The first thing we stepped up was the staff redeployment hub, gathering business continuity plans from across the trust and looking at how we could transfer people to where they were more needed,” explains Louise Clark, the trust’s director of workforce. “People don’t stop having heart attacks or getting cancer, so some critical areas still have to function, but broadly everyone else is focused on supporting the response to Covid-19.” 

Most of the trust’s 250-strong workforce team is currently doing a different role to usual, with some of the team supporting the redeployment hub and undertaking skills assessments to place staff where they fit best. “I think it shows the flexibility and agility of all our teams to make sure staff are supported in providing the best care,” says Clark.

The trust has so far redeployed 1,300 staff and upskilled more than 2,100 to make sure they’re prepared for potentially working in a different speciality. “Our learning function has gone into overdrive and worked creatively to deliver what was needed,” says Clark. 

Maintaining wellbeing

To support staff during this unprecedented time, the trust initially set up two wellbeing hubs – one each at its two largest hospitals – where staff can go during their breaks and talk to a team of psychologists or representatives from the chaplaincy team, receive hand care advice from a dermatologist, and access food, drinks and toiletries, as well as be signposted to further mental or physical health resources.

With around 1,800 people visiting the hubs each day in their first week alone, the trust has since had to open three more at its largest site, King’s College Hospital. “I can’t tell you the impact the wellbeing hubs have had on staff,” says Clark. “They’re a place where they go to reset and recharge, access help or just to talk to someone, and have some company where they’re not behind a mask in a ward environment. Our early research is telling us that people want these hubs to stay.”

The trust has also been fortunate to receive huge support from the local community, with nearby businesses and organisations providing around 2,000 hot meals a day for staff at King’s. The trust is also delivering food to employees on particularly challenged wards who find it harder to leave for breaks. “I suppose the community is giving back to the trust everything it’s done for them in peacetime,” says Clark. “I can only describe it as a full logistics operation with its own supply chain – it’s amazing to be part of this wonderful community and our teams are so grateful.”

The role of HR

Clark highlights the unique role her team plays within the organisation: “Being in workforce, we're in the unique position of being both on and in the organisation. We've got to have a bird's eye view of what's going on and stay one step ahead so we can plan for what might be needed next, but then we've also got to be on the ground working directly with teams and hearing what issues they’re having.”

The next challenge for the workforce team, she adds, is deciding what the ‘new normal’ looks like once the pandemic is over. “I am incredibly proud of our team – they have shone so brightly in the King’s response to Covid-19. I don’t think we can just go back to how things were before,” she says. “The reaction to the staff wellbeing hubs tells me we need to keep them in place and invest more time and energy into that part of our roles.”

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