Flexible working across the NHS

workingmums.co.uk speaks to Kate Jarman and Aasha Cowey, co-founders of @FlexNHS which campaigns for greater flexible working in the NHS.


Kate Jarman and Aasha Cowey both work in the NHS and found each other on Twitter around six months ago.

Aasha was tweeting and blogging about life as a working parent. Kate was doing something similar. They got chatting about their different experiences within the NHS and about the power of social media. “The NHS is a complex big employer and 77% of its employees are women, many of whom have caring responsibilities, but we don’t speak a lot about work life issues. We both thought it was a good idea to have those conversations. That is how our flexible platform was born,” says Kate.

Both had a certain degree of flexibility in their jobs. Kate [pictured left] is director of corporate affairs at Milton Keynes hospital and works four days in the office and one from home. She has three children, aged eight, six and three. Aasha [pictured right] is a programme manager working on digital transformation strategy at NHS South, Central and West. She tends to work standard hours from Monday to Thursday and makes up the rest of her hours in the evenings and at weekends so she can have more time with her two-year-old daughter. She is not as fixed to a particular office as Kate and can work from offices across the region and from home. She says the flexibility works both ways and that her manager is very supportive.

The two women wanted to explore how to make access to flexible working more equitable across the NHS regardless of the role people do – that includes looking at nurses’, midwives’ and healthcare assistants’ shift patterns and junior doctors’ rotations.

So, having set up the Twitter platform @FlexNHS, they contacted other flexible working campaigners and won early support from blogger Mother Pukka, aka Anna Whitehouse, as well as other organisations, from NHS Employers and the Women’s Leadership Network to NHS Leadership Academy.

Business benefits

They are very clear about the business case for what they are doing. “We train clinical staff and we want to keep them, but they will need flexible working at different points in their lives. We happen to be working parents with small children, but many have caring responsibilities for elderly relatives or others or mental health issues or any of the many other reasons for needing flexibility. It needs to be available to everyone,” says Kate.

Indeed a recent Health Foundation annual workforce trends report shows work–life balance has increasingly been reported as a driving factor for people leaving the NHS – more than two and half times as many people citing it in 2018/19 than in 2011/12.

The FlexNHS platform is now asking people across the NHS for their experiences of flexible working and has received a lot of positive response and engagement. Kate and Aasha, who direct and feed the platform on top of their regular full-time jobs, aim to bring the flexible working case studies together and promote them on Mother Pukka’s website as a resource for the whole NHS. They are also developing their own website.

Many of the case studies are senior women, but Kate says it is important to highlight examples from all levels. Aasha says junior workers have told her it is harder to get work life balance than senior managers as they are less able to dictate their own terms.

“We want to promote positive conversations and empower people to explore what flexible working means to them,” she states.

Aasha says there are pockets of good practice in operational roles such as more flexible rostering and that these need to be more visible and accessible as well as scaleable. FlexNHS is keen that the issue is viewed as an organisational one and not just about individual managers who may be under certain pressures.  She states: “Our aim is to explore potential barriers, from culture to management attitudes, and to humanise flexible working.”

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