Social Innovation Stories


Supporting the UK healthcare system during Covid-19

Temporary health and social care workers will always be needed, and the Covid-19 crisis has proven the unique value that specialist healthcare recruiters bring to the NHS and the wider social care sector. The REC, UK’s recruitment industry body, and its members active in staffing the health and social care sector, took several actions during the crisis to support the national healthcare system and ensure adequate protection of its workers.

  • #Fair Recruitment & Migration

  • #Decent Work & Fighting Informality

  • #Labour Market Regulation & Diverse Forms of Work

  • #Covid19

The challenge

In 2020 the healthcare sector in the United Kingdom has faced its toughest challenge since the founding of the National Health Service (NHS). Staff on the ground, whether substantive or temporary workers, have all worked heroically to deal with the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic.

However, even before the Covid-19 crisis, the NHS was already dealing with chronic workforce shortages; with 100,000 vacancies, including 40,000 in nursing and 120,000 in adult social care.

Staffing agencies have been critical partners to the NHS for decades and have provided vital support during workforce shortages. However, it was essential that agencies were not seen to be profiteering from the crisis.

In addition, half (48%) of specialist recruiters flagged concerns about the lack of adequate protection for temporary workers in the NHS and sought to ensure that they were provided with the right Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), health & safety risk assessments and access to testing. 


The REC, UK’s recruitment industry body, has well-established relationships with the NHS and the Department of Health and Social Care; as well as with the NHS framework providers. From the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, the REC worked closely with them to ensure that the voice of the recruitment sector was heard, that framework terms were favourable to its members and that legal and regulatory requirements were complied with to protect all workers, patients, and the public.

The REC issued a Healthcare Manifesto, setting out a roadmap for how specialist health and social care recruiters can help at this time of national emergency. The Manifesto outlined 4 steps which would help bridge staffing shortages and ensure that recruitment professionals are partners to the sector during the Covid-19 crisis and in its aftermath. The Manifesto also formed the basis of REC’s discussions with key stakeholders, and in calls for a formal partnership agreement between the REC and the Department of Health and Social Care.

The REC also wrote to the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) to re-iterate the commitment that the REC would not tolerate profiteering from the crisis, and that so-called ‘coronavirus rate cards’ are unacceptable.

Temporary staff adhere to the same rigorous infection control guidelines as permanent colleagues and have an equal right to PPE and testing. But with a lack of adequate PPE at the start of the pandemic, many agencies worried that substantive staff were being unfairly prioritised. The REC urged the government to ensure this equal access in April and called out the lack of clarity in government guidance for care homes. Agencies have done everything they can to control the spread of coronavirus.

Key numbers


nursing and medical vacancies, and other support roles, filled by agency staff every quarter


At the start of the pandemic the Minister of State for Care Helen Whately MP wrote a letter to healthcare recruitment agencies, calling upon them to work in constructive partnership with the NHS during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

NHS Improvement have reported that there is record framework and price cap compliance from agencies. In order to supply staff to the NHS, recruitment agencies must bid to be on an approved NHS framework and adhere to strict compliance standards. Furthermore, price caps and controls were introduced in 2015 in order to limit spending on agency staff.

The REC set up a Covid-19 hub on our website, with a dedicated page to Health & Social Care. This included the latest updates and ‘frequently asked questions’ for members, as well as advice on issues such as Right to Work and identity checks, criminal records checks, Statutory Sick Pay, Health & Safety requirements and the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme. Webinars were also organised for REC members.