A NEW NHS strategy aims to improve staff wellbeing and slash red tape.
The NHS People Plan, launched by Health Secretary Matt Hancock, includes a range of measures designed to make it easier for healthcare professionals to tackle the challenges of COVID-19.
It includes a major campaign to recruit and retain more health workers, with flexible working a key element.
And as part of a "bureaucracy-busting push", NHS staff are being encouraged to submit suggestions on how to reduce red tape while still ensuring safe, high-quality care.
Wellbeing is central to the plan with proposals for measures such as safe spaces to rest, wellbeing guardians and greater support to keep staff physically safe and healthy.
The People Plan is said to build on innovations driven by staff during the pandemic and "sets out how the NHS can embed them".
It cites examples such as allowing staff to use secure messaging services like WhatsApp so patients can rapidly access information. It is also hoped that millions of primary care records can be linked to the latest data on coronavirus, helping government to analyse risk factors.
Other key actions from the plan include advertising all job roles across NHS England and NHS Improvement as being available for flexible working from January 2021. Former staff will be encouraged to return to practice, the mental health and cancer workforces will be increased and a new quarterly survey will be launched to track morale.
Mr Hancock said the plan would make the NHS "the best place to work" and that he would deliver 50,000 more nurses, 6,000 more GPs and 26,000 staff primary care professionals.
He said: "Our NHS people deserve to get on with caring for patients and this crisis has proved there’s bureaucracy that our healthcare system can do better without. So I’m urging people across the NHS and social care to speak up about what red tape you can do without to allow you to better deliver the high-quality care you are renowned for."
Responding to the strategy launch, RCGP chair Professor Martin Marshall welcomed the commitment to cut bureaucracy.
He said: "Throughout the pandemic GPs and our teams have shown they can be trusted to deliver safe patient care without spending hours ticking boxes to prove it."
He said a College survey of members showed that GPs have found the reduction in bureaucracy - for example, preparations for CQC inspections and that necessitated by QOF - has led to having more time with patients, and improved their ability to deliver better quality care.
Professor Marshall said the College supported greater use of technology, but added: "A totally, or even predominantly, remote general practice service wouldn’t be in anybody’s best interests long-term, and throughout the pandemic face-to-face appointments have been facilitated when they’ve been necessary. Remote consultations have benefits… but there are some things that simply can’t be done remotely”.