NHS workers in England and Wales can now request flexible working from their first day on the job, after a recent update to the NHS Terms and Conditions of Service (NHS Staff Council, 2021). The Royal College of Midwives has announced its wholehearted support for this move, and alongside Maternity Action, published guidance for its members on how to request flexible working (Royal College of Midwives and Maternity Action, 2021).
The pandemic has led to many changes in the last 18 months, including the widespread introduction of flexible working. This umbrella term covers many possible changes to traditional working hours. Flexible working can include working part-time, altering the start and finish time of working hours and working from home (remote working).
Flexible working can make a huge difference to many people when balancing the responsibilities of both their jobs and personal lives, especially to those with responsibilities such as caring for children or elderly relatives. In 2019, Carers UK (2019) estimated that 247 000 workers in the NHS had unpaid carer responsibilities on top of their job, and around 72 000 NHS workers left their job because they could not balance their work life with caring responsibilities. In 2021, the charity reported that the number of workers who are also unpaid carers had risen to 400 000 (Carers UK, 2021). This is just one example of a group of NHS workers who are likely to benefit from the option to work flexibly. By promoting flexible working for its employees, the NHS is hoping to recruit and retain a greater number of workers, and thereby combat the staff shortages present throughout the NHS workforce.
For me, flexible working has made a big difference to my life. I am writing this editorial, my first as Editor of the British Journal of Midwifery, while working remotely. Being given the opportunity to work flexibly has allowed me to move in with my partner and be closer to my family after losing my mother to cancer earlier this year. It has allowed me to choose when and where I work, ensuring I can work in a way that makes me more efficient and engaged in my job, as well as having greater control over my home life.
The pandemic has been difficult for everyone, and many things have changed as a result, including the way in which we all work. This is especially true for healthcare practitioners, who have been on the frontline throughout the crisis and have frequently taken on new responsibilities and learnt to adopt new ways of working. I hope that the widespread move towards promoting flexible working will be a positive change for many of you, and allow you the opportunity to choose how you work best.