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NHSE promises to review ‘return to office’ progress after six months

Published on: 28 Mar 2024

NHS England has promised to review its controversial “return to the office” policy after six months.

It comes after concerns from staff about how the policy would work in practice, especially with some NHSE offices having been reduced in size since the pandemic.

In January, NHSE announced its staff would normally be expected to work from the office for a minimum of two days a week from April. It said working from the office would help solve common issues, create the best possible culture, and enable staff “to have a social conversation which can support our wellbeing.”

But many have questioned the viability of such a move, pointing out staff have come to expect flexibility after nearly four years of predominately home working, office space had been reduced, and a lot of meetings would be held virtually anyway, because people were spread between different offices.

NHSE said it had always intended to review the policy after six months, but confirmed this was communicated to staff in February, after its initial announcement about the policy.

It said there would be a review of how the hybrid working policy is operating in September and teams will be given some autonomy around the days they come into the office with some expected to be in more frequently during “business critical periods”. 

NHSE said on Thursday it was not going to review whether to keep the policy; but instead how it was being implemented. 

They will still be expected to spend an average of 40 per cent of their time in the office but this suggests some teams will have intense periods in the office but may not have to come in so much the rest of the time.

NHSE has also confirmed it will make “reasonable adjustments” for staff requiring them. It said in January that the policy would not apply to those with contractual agreements excepting them from office working.

Managers in Partnership chief executive Jon Restell said a survey of its members in NHSE had “found genuine concerns”.

“NHS England has downsized its estate considerably while growing as an organisation through a series of mergers in the years since the pandemic and staff are not confident the current estate can handle increased usage,” he said.

“The vast majority of staff have been attending the office in the last year and, while valuing the benefits of in person collaboration, they highlighted in our survey issues around desk space, office facilities, and access requirements. Many also raised concerns around the need to make appropriate care arrangements and pointed out that their immediate teams were already based elsewhere.

“We welcome NHSE taking steps to address the concerns raised by staff since the announcement, including allowing time to reflect on how the policy is working before full implementation and engaging constructively with trade unions through partnership working to make sure this policy works for staff and the needs of the NHS.”

Updated at 2.15pm on 28 March after NHSE said it would not review whether to keep the policy, but only how it was being implemented.