‘Snowflake generation’ is threatening the future of the NHS by refusing to work nights or weekends, health chief warns

  • Around the clock shifts are unfilled due to workers insisting on flexible hours
  • NHS is already under strain with 107,743 vacancies in England alone in June
  • Trust chief exec say it doesn’t have the ‘luxury’ of insisting on anti-social hours
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The new generation of NHS workers is threatening the future of the health service by refusing to work nights or weekends, a health chief has warned.

Around the clock shifts are going unfilled due to millennial staff, often referred to as ‘snowflakes’, insisting on flexible hours, according to the trust chief executive who declined to be named.

The shift in the workforce is placing pressure on the health service and creating a generational clash with long-standing NHS staff, he said. 

This is putting the NHS under increased pressure at a time when there were 107,743 vacancies at the end of June in England alone – a 9.4 per cent increase from the 98,475 unfilled positions in March 2017. 

‘We don’t have the luxury of saying it’s 24/7 or you haven’t got a job, because they’ll go somewhere else,’ the male chief executive said. 

The new ‘snowflake’ generation of NHS workers is threatening the future of the health service by refusing to work nights or weekends, a health chief has warned (stock)

According to the executive, young people who are joining the NHS have unrealistic expectations of their employer.

Their demands for flexible working hours is creating a generational clash with long-standing staff who tolerate the health service’s anti-social hours.    

He said: ‘What we are seeing is massive intergenerational issues with our workforce as it changes.

‘The younger generation now joining the NHS, they have got massive expectations about what the offer is from us as employers, to be the employer of choice for them, and it’s just a hard act to meet, I think. 

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‘People are wanting huge amounts more in terms of flexibility, variety, options and they think much more in terms of short-term careers, five-year horizons rather than 20-year horizons.’

He added: ‘There’s no sign that people are joining the NHS for long careers, and that the offer that we’ve got around pensions and security and those sort of things are enough these days.’ 

Meeting the new workers’ expectations is ‘quite a big ask’ for NHS Trusts, which must ensure adequate cover 24/7, as well as encouraging its employees to work as a team, the executive said.


Waiting times at over-stretched A&E units are at their worst level since records began, according to official figures in April 2018.

Experts said the NHS was in the grip of an ‘eternal winter’ and many hospitals are still struggling to cope with the unprecedented pressure. 

Health and Social Care Secretary Jeremy Hunt was forced to admit it was the ‘worst winter ever’ amid a severe outbreak of flu and cold weather.

Chiefs cancelled thousands of operations in a controversial move to ease pressure. And experts have suggested this may be the only option to stop a crisis next year. 

The latest monthly data from NHS England also shows that waiting times for routine operations, such as knee and hip replacements, are at their highest since 2004.  

And violent assaults on staff have risen by 10 per cent in a year – partly driven by frustration with waiting times. 

‘When you’ve got people who want to work with a lot of flexibility around part-time, they want to work when they want to work, it doesn’t really make it easy between people who are prepared to make that sacrifice – as long as others are – to work the difficult shifts, the unsocial hours, the nights, the weekends on a regular pattern,’ he added.

The chief executive of a different NHS trust argued staff shortages mean it is difficult to make people work unsocial hours.

‘So I think that the overall deficit of the workforce is probably a greater challenge than the flexibility that the workforce offer,’ he said.  

This comes after the think tank The King’s Fund last week warned nursing shortages ‘risk becoming a national emergency’.

Siva Anandaciva, chief analyst of The King’s Fund, claimed nurses are ‘symptomatic of a long-term failure in workforce planning’.

Around 1.1 million full-time staff are employed by the health service, figures from NHS Improvement showed.

There were 41,722 nursing vacancies across trusts in England at the end of June, of which 80 per cent were filled by bank or agency staff.

A further 11,576 unfilled posts were recorded for doctors, of which 85 per cent were plugged with temporary workers. 

Between April and June, NHS trusts spent £805 million on bank staff – £102 million more than planned.

And they spent an additional £599 million on agency staff, which was £32 million over-budget, according to the NHS Improvement report.

Mr Anandaciva said: ‘After a punishing summer of heatwaves and ever-increasing demands on services, today’s report shows that the NHS is heading for another tough winter.

‘Widespread and growing nursing shortages now risk becoming a national emergency and are symptomatic of a long-term failure in workforce planning.’

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