University Hospital Southampton NHS Foundation Trust

The Covid-19 pandemic brought challenges to the NHS like none ever seen before, testing all staff to their limits, frontline or otherwise. Critical to the health service’s work during the two years was its HR teams, whose vital role in everything from nurturing staff wellbeing to redeploying workers into other roles helped support workforces as well as patients and the wider communities.

The 70-strong HR team at University Hospital Southampton NHS Foundation Trust – one of the largest acute teaching hospitals in England and boasting a workforce of around 13,000 – was no different. From the very start of the crisis, the team recognised the opportunity and need to support staff on the ground in any way they could – from the “rapid” development and publication of critical HR guidance and ramping up of key recruitment campaigns, to supporting the set up of state-of-the-art facilities to drive down Covid transmission.

Of particular note was the trust’s ‘Covid Zero’ campaign, run in partnership with the communications team, which saw the organisation achieving one of the lowest hospital transmission rates in the country despite being in an area with a high level of community transmission. As part of the project, HR and occupational health worked with managers to undertake individual risk assessments, ensuring the workforce was maximised while protecting vulnerable individuals. The people team worked closely with trade unions to agree an approach to vaccination as a condition of employment, which led to 97 per cent of staff being vaccinated (as of February 2022). The team also helped to adjust the roles of, or redeploy, employees who were at greater risk should they contract the virus.

The organisation was also commissioned by the UK Health Security Agency to deliver weekly saliva testing to identify asymptomatic Covid-19 cases, which required a new purpose-built facility to be set up and staffed. The HR team worked with operational leads to recruit at scale, hiring and training more than 100 people to run it.

In the past year alone, the HR team has managed more than 10,000 applications for roles at the trust and started 700 employees; recruited and started 274 overseas nurses; supported 14 HR apprentices/students within the HR team; and filled more than 200,000 vacant shifts across all staff groups.

The judges were impressed with the speed at which the HR team identified priorities early in the pandemic and in many cases seemed to be “one step ahead”, particularly around driving for high-quality PPE, vaccination and education, all the while continuing to develop their HR teams via apprenticeships, CIPD qualifications and organisational culture.