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Supporting healthcare workers through the Covid-19 crisis

It goes without saying that, as a responsible and professional health and social care provider, the health and wellbeing of our staff and the people who use our services is something very close to our heart.

In fact, it’s foremost in our minds 24/7, 365 days of the year.

But it is fair to say that the global pandemic has heightened our already considerable thoughts and lengthened our numerous discussions on this topic.

As our Chief People Officer, I am so proud and humbled by the work of our amazing health and social care workers and the central teams who support them.

I am deeply humbled by how they have excelled throughout these unprecedented times in all the work they do and this includes hundreds of vital services such as keeping people safe and healthy at home and out of hospital during the pandemic, helping new parents with their babies, providing advice and activities for vulnerable children during lockdown, carrying out podiatry services and palliative care.

And obviously, it is our duty to ensure that our more than 5,000 colleagues who help around one million people a year across England are supported while they work on the frontline.

To help this, we have brought in a number of initiatives.

For example, we set up our Wellness Centre, a one-stop-shop on the intranet for colleagues that is easy to understand and easy to navigate.

This is a combination of useful materials, designed to guide and assist our colleagues with whatever it may be that they’re struggling with. It includes NHS resources and products, help on dealing with bereavement, emotional wellbeing support, wellness videos, advice on staying healthy, financial issues and even how to help or treat aches and pains.

It goes without saying, of course, that Covid-19 and advice on what it is and how to get help features large as well. Just because we are in the sector and directly impacted on a day to day basis, it doesn’t mean our colleagues are immune to their own worries about how this affects them, their families and the people they care about, not to mention supporting them through such a challenging time at work.

To put it bluntly, colleague safety is absolutely paramount and I am proud that we have been able to take decisions at pace but in a considered and inclusive way. We know change at pace carries risk, so strong communication; engagement and leadership are key – and we could not have done this without our colleagues support, commitment and co-operation.

We moved with lightning speed to remote working and virtual service delivery, if it was appropriate to do so, we brought in online consultations for patients, safe ways of working for those still onsite and we boosted virtual training to enable this – all existing material needed to adapt and  be easily accessed and learned via a laptop – this was thanks to the ability and speed of our own in house training centre, The Learning Enterprise (TLE).

We also moved quickly to ensure we implemented, translated and explained every piece of government guidance in real time – considering the impact on colleagues and those who use our services. That was important as safety advice was changing quickly at the start, as Public Health England and our colleagues across the NHS set about rapid change as well.

In fact, I think it is fair to say we made important rapid decisions to change the way in which our services operate to protect the safety of everyone.

How did we do this?

To put it simply, we had to. The pandemic has changed the world and it was important to be ahead of the curve to ensure we could work with our partners in the NHS and local authorities and provide a real and meaningful part of our country’s health and social care response.

I believe it is through our compassionate, agile and high-trust leadership style that we have achieved what we have, one that puts our colleagues and the people we support at the front and centre of each and every decision.

That has allowed us to form a unique culture within our organisation that allows us to adapt at pace in a way that is in the best interests of our colleagues and our service users – which is underpinned by our values.

As stated we have also been able to continue training and educating our staff from a distance. We made the move to virtual classrooms to allow our colleagues to continue their development whilst ensuring their safety. Most significantly, we rolled out PPE training that 90% of our colleagues had completed in 6 weeks.

Covid-19 has been a stimulus, a catalyst and an accelerant for change, and like many we have been considering what kind of organisation we want to be in the future. One of our challenges was simplification, in a world where we are all busy, we needed to make our support easy to access. Operating in a different way has required us to evaluate the different ways in which we can offer guidance.

We have seen a great amount of enthusiasm from colleagues around our Wellness Centre and new ways of working, so it’s crucial that we capture this enthusiasm and turn it into the ‘new normal’.

Over the last few months, the new strategies that we have implemented and the conversations we have had as our colleagues respond both professionally and personally to the pandemic have resulted in our leaders and managers gaining a deeper understanding of individuals, how they work and how they feel. Knowing each other on a much deeper, personal level allows us to really embed culture of inclusion and support each other further.

I am proud of the pace in which this organisation has adapted to the difficult circumstances to make changes that are better for everyone, some changes we will undoubtedly keep in place as they have really made a positive difference, some changes we await to embed in a slightly different way as we enter our new normal. My biggest takeaway is the day to day inspiration from our colleagues who have and continue to be responsive, positive, passionate and inspirational which in turn is our own stimulus to continue to strive for better.

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Virgin Care

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