Celebrating the NHS’s best kept secrets



Author: Ana Skerrett, Business Manager, NHS Professionals

Celebrating the NHS’s best kept secrets

We all know the NHS has many very talented doctors and nurses. They’ve proved their worth a thousand times over in the past year since the pandemic hit (not that they needed to). Their capacity to go on delivering safe, high quality care while digging deeper than ever before, is staggering.

Brilliant as they are, they are only part of the reason why the NHS hasn’t and won’t buckle under the pressure. Working with them are scores of other less obvious staff groups that play a critical role in both hospital and community patient care and give the NHS the enormous tensile strength it needs.

There are too many to mention here, so today I’d like to single out just two: allied health professionals and healthcare scientists. We work with both at NHS Professionals (NHSP), and they are a seriously impressive bunch.

The holy grail

Of the two, allied health professionals (AHPs) face patients the most. There are more than 100,000 across England spanning 15 different specialisms, making them the third largest workforce in the NHS1,2. Some of their specialisms are well-known, such as physiotherapists, dieticians and radiographers, but others perhaps less so: orthoptists, prosthetists and drama therapists. Each of these groups is much smaller than, for example, nurses, but all are perfectly formed. They practise holistically and tend to forge long-term therapeutic and deeply transformational bonds with their patients, as they emerge out of acute care and into rehabilitation and reablement.

Their importance to the NHS can only increase now we are moving towards Integrated Care Systems. In hospital, AHPs can cut unhealthy and costly lengths of stay, while out of hospital they focus on prevention and self-management and empower people to become more independent in their daily lives and less in need of crisis care. Put another way, they help the NHS find the holy grail of sustainable care that delivers the best outcomes but doesn’t break the bank.

Behind closed doors

Healthcare scientists (HCS), meanwhile, are another huge but lower profile force in the NHS, in my experience. When was the last time you saw one on Holby City, for example? But the fact is they number more than 50,000 and their expertise underpins an estimated 80% of all clinical diagnoses3.


The scope of their work is wide – you’ll find many hidden behind closed doors in 24-hour state-of-the-art laboratories diagnosing millions of critical patient samples a year, sometimes in super-quick time while the patient themselves is undergoing life-saving surgery. Some dedicate their working lives to research in areas like genomics, which will one day unearth answers buried deep inside major diseases like cancer and Alzheimer’s.


You will also find scientists who are clinical engineers and those in medical physics and imaging, whose job is to tame the immense power of radiation and use it safely as a force for good. Finally, there are some working in physiological sciences.


Like AHPs, we now need HCSs more than ever because life expectancy and demand for health and social care services are both at an all-time high. We need answers to a growing list of complex clinical questions. Scientists, working in partnership with frontline clinicians, have the physical and intellectual resources to find these answers, perhaps more than any of us.


Pandemic effort

Both AHP and HCSs have played a vital role in the pandemic so far and we’ve been proud to support that effort.

We’ve placed physiotherapists into intensive care units to help mobilise patients to make them more comfortable. We’ve recruited speech and language therapists to support intubated patients, and dieticians to help people restore nutritional balance after many months in hospital. We’ve also seen there is an acute shortage of occupational therapists to support patients resume the activities they enjoyed before they became ill.

We make sure these and all our Bank Members - as we call the health and social care staff we work with at NHS Professionals - know just how important they are.

Specialist knowledge

Many of our Bank Members are solely flexible workers, picking up shifts through NHS Professionals to fit around their lives. Some are substantive workers already working part or full-time in the sector but looking for extra shifts to top-up their regular income and support their career path. Some like to just pick up shorter-term assignments, but many prefer longer term project-based placements, such as maternity leave or vacancy cover. These placements are attractive because they’re a hybrid between a permanent role and complete flexibility.

Whatever role they choose, our specialist recruiters guide and support our Bank Members and the NHS Trusts they join. These recruiters understand specific AHP and HCS specialisms, such as podiatry or phlebotomy. My team also come from mixed backgrounds – agency, commercial and clinical. Our niche knowledge and diversity means that both Bank Members and Trust recruitment managers can feel confident we’ve got a firm grip on the issues they face.

Passion and results

These are just some of the reasons why I’m proud my team places AHPs and healthcare scientists in hundreds of flexible roles across acute, community and mental health settings. (We also place social workers and mental health practitioners, but they deserve a blog all of their own!)

We’re passionate about the NHS and we get results. In 2020/21, as a result of a tremendous team effort, we filled over one million Bank hours. Over the coming months, as we slowly but surely emerge out of the pandemic, we will be developing our knowledge, expertise and services and focusing on what matters most: our Bank Members, the NHS, and the patients they serve.


1. NHS website: Roles in the allied health professions | Health Careers. Web page accessed 28/4/2021.

2. NHS England and NHS Improvement: Allied Health Professionals making integrated care a reality - YouTube. Video accessed 28/4/2021.

3. NHS website: NHS England » What is healthcare science?. Web page accessed 28/4/2021.

Useful links

NHS Professionals | Staff Bank |Allied Health Professionals

NHS England » Allied Health Professions

NHS England » Healthcare science

Join us

Are you an AHP or Healthcare Scientist and want to boost your income and enhance your career? Call our dedicated AHP/HCS placement team on 03330 144 370 to find out more about our flexible working opportunities or email AHP&HCS@NHSProfessionals.nhs.uk. You can also visit: NHS Professionals | Staff Bank |Allied Health Professionals