A care worker visits a resident in a care home

NHS workforce: healthcare workers moving to gig work

During the first national lockdown, millions of people took to their doorsteps, balconies and gardens to clap to support our NHS heroes and key workers. 

But two years after the Clap For Our Carers campaign,1 the coronavirus pandemic has taken its toll on those who tirelessly risked their lives on the frontline. 

Not surprisingly, Covid-19 has left many exhausted doctors, nurses, carers, GPs, and other healthcare workers overstretched and questioning their commitment to a profession they once loved.

Some of those who treated ill coronavirus patients are searching for a better work-life balance for their own mental and physical well-being with a shift to gig working.

More frontline workers are considering gig work

While many staff may contemplate gig work, others are considering leaving the profession altogether. And who can blame them after gruelling shifts and bruises from wearing protective equipment, not to mention the time spent separated from loved ones.2

NHS heroes left ‘mentally drained’ and in tears

Some senior, more experienced staff were left “crying with frustration and anger” as patients waited days for beds, managers at the Royal Preston Hospital warned in a letter describing the pressures on employees.3

Loss of 25,000 NHS beds causing ‘real patient harm’, finds report

The NHS has lost almost 25,000 beds across the UK in the last decade, according to a report that says the loss has led to a “sharp increase” in waiting times for A&E, ambulances, and operations.4

The Royal College of Emergency Medicine said the loss is causing a “serious patient safety crisis”, with NHS staff facing mounting levels of burn out, exhaustion, and moral injury.

True picture of the NHS in England

Concerns were echoed in the results of the latest NHS Staff Survey.5

Just one in four (27.2 %) felt there was enough staff at their organisation for them to do their job properly – a sharp decline to its lowest level in five years.

The survey also revealed that 31.1% of NHS employees often think about leaving this organisation. 

Some 46.8% of staff felt unwell due to work-related stress in the last 12 months, while 46.5% admitted they felt worn out at the end of their shift – with ambulance staff, nurses and midwives most likely to describe feeling burnt-out. 

H3 Staffing crisis reported in NHS England as 110,000 posts unfilled
This staff burn out has significantly impacted the job market – largely down to the pandemic and people finding that temporary or freelance work are better options for them.

There were 110,192 job vacancies across health services in England, it was revealed earlier this year.6

The official figures, published by NHS Digital, included thousands of unfilled vacancies, including 39,652 nurses and 8,158 doctors. 

One in 10 nurses’ posts and one in 17 doctors’ jobs left empty

One in 10 (10.3%) nursing posts needed filling across England and one in 17 (5.8%) doctors’ jobs – all adding to the mounting pressure on staff and leaving some to consider making major changes to their work life.
Shortages were blamed on workers being burnt-out from heavy workloads and pressure during shifts.

An increase in the number of NHS staff off work due to the coronavirus also had a knock-on effect on patient care, despite their best efforts to deal with backlogs and meet the ongoing demand for services.7

Workers want more control over their career

Meanwhile, Britain’s gig economy is booming. 

The number of people doing gig work has almost tripled in England and Wales during the past five years, accounting for 4.4million workers, with the gig economy spreading further into the world of work, according to research published by the TUC.8

In search of a better work-life balance and mental well-being, some professionals are now opting for greater flexibility too, as opposed to conventional employment with set salaries and hours.9

NHS cuts ‘linked to a rise in gig economy working.’

Thousands of NHS workers in the UK were on zero-hours contracts long before the pandemic, with the NHS under pressure and cuts and privatisation said to be linked to a rise in gig work.10
While denied financial security and the right to set hours, staff arguably have greater control over their schedules and can prioritise the amount, duration, and timing of their shifts.

Money is also a factor. Only 32.7 % of people working in the NHS were satisfied with their level of pay.5

However, traditional monetary levers such as paid holidays, pay rises, or bonuses may not be enough to encourage workers to stay, even amid spiralling living costs.

NHS workers want to feel supported 

Fortunately, hospital admissions for Covid-19 across England remain low,11 thanks to a successful coronavirus vaccine. But the past two years have been some of the most difficult in history for the NHS. 

There are still huge challenges ahead, and NHS workers must feel their employers care after sacrificing so much through the pandemic. 


  1. www.telegraph.co.uk/thank-nhs-clap-carers/
  2. www.mirror.co.uk/coronavirus-nhs-doctors-powerful-selfie-21733135
  3. www.bbc.co.uk/uk-england-lancashire-60988208
  4. www.itv.com/news/
  5. www.nhsstaffsurveys.com/national-results/
  6. www.theguardian.com/staffing-crisis-deepens-in-nhs-england-with-110000-posts-unfilled
  7. www.bmj.com/bmj.o945
  8. www.tuc.org.uk/news/
  9. www.techradar.com/what-are-the-biggest-trends-in-the-job-market-in-2022
  10. www.gmb.org.uk/revealed-scandal-30000-nhs-workers-zero-hours-contracts
  11. www.england.nhs.uk/covid-19-hospital-activity/