NHSE imposes ‘return to office’ policy

Published on: 29 Jan 2024

Full-time NHS England staff will be required to work at least two days in the office from April, it has told them, despite union concerns.

The national agency told workers that most full-time staff would need to work from the office at least two days each week from April.

The move – which NHSE says was a collective decision by its executive group – comes after nearly four years of many staff being able to work from home full time.

In a message to all staff today giving details of the proposal, NHSE said: “Working together in person better helps us to solve common issues and have a social conversation which can support our wellbeing, particularly among younger staff and new starters.”

This would help “create the best possible inclusive culture, experience and environment” and therefore “deliver our purpose – leading the NHS to deliver high-quality services for all”. It was also harmonising practice across NHSE, HEE and NHS Digital, it said.

The move comes as the organisations, which merged in 2022, continue to go through a major restructure, removing around 8,000 posts. NHSE said the office policy would come in “from this April as we complete the filling of posts process”.

NHSE said most staff would be expected to work an average of at least 40 per cent of their time from their “contractual office base”, including regional staff.

Some have contractual agreements meaning they would be excluded from the requirement, however, and NHSE has set up a working group to consider other exclusions such as those who require reasonable adjustments.

The working group will also develop the details of the policy, and NHSE will engage with teams, staff networks and trade unions in the next two months.

Jon Restell, chief executive of NHS managers union Managers in Partnership, said: “Given that NHSE has downsized its estate considerably in the last few years, it is not clear logistically how this will work and it may in fact harm productivity rather than improve it as staff vie for limited office space.

“We’ve already seen this across the civil service, with departments making decisions based on politics rather than how it impacts staff and their ability to deliver value for the public. It is disappointing that this approach is now being pursued in the NHS.” He said MiP would survey its NHSE members to decide next steps.

Some civil servants have been under pressure to return to the office since 2022, when government work from home recommendations ended. In recent months, ministers had said civil servants should work at least 60 per cent of their time in the office, and Cabinet Office minister John Glen last week said “people expect, if you are paid by the taxpayer, [for you] to be working together”.