The NHS : Finding A Way Through The Staffing Crisis

The NHS is facing a widely reported staffing crisis, highlighted by frequent reports throughout this winter period of A&E departments unable to cope with unprecedented patient levels.

How can it respond to and navigate a way through this crisis?

This article examines the ways in which it is responding, in particular to GP recruitment shortages, highlighting the Trusts that are making HR driven steps forward and looks at developments in AI and ongoing hiring strategies.

Preparing for Brexit

The CIPD recently reported that the healthcare sector may already be feeling the effects of Brexit. Online job searches from Eastern Europe for health and social care jobs fell by a reported 17% in the wake of the referendum vote. In 2016, PwC predicted that Brexit’s biggest impact across the NHS would be its effect on GP recruitment. The anticipated triggering of Article 50 by the end of March will reinforce these concerns.

A shortfall of almost 10,000 doctors is predicted by the Royal College of GPs by 2020. In anticipation of that shortage – and of a shrinking post-Brexit talent pool - NHS England has launched a new scheme to recruit GPs from across Europe, including Poland, Croatia, Lithuania and Greece. Salaries of £90,000 coupled with a ‘generous relocation package’ are on offer and new recruits will undergo training for 12 weeks in Poland. 

This initiative may also have been influenced by a report from the National Audit Office which warned that lack of access to GPs was contributing to the A&E crisis. The scheme is being piloted in Lincolnshire and the first GPs are expected to take up their new positions in April.

The new initiative only expects to recruit half of the 10,000 shortfall, however, forcing NHS leaders to explore more creative ways to address the staffing crisis. The NHS in Wales is endeavouring to overcome its historically low numbers of recruits with a targeted hiring campaign to attract skilled candidates to the region.

In a further attempt to create a uniform standard among GP candidate assessments, the General Medical Council has announced the requirement for newly qualified doctors to pass basic skills tests, alongside all foreign applicants. This new medical licensing assessment will be in place within the next 5 years. It is intended to improve the standards of graduate doctors.

Instilling positive HR led leadership

In order to attract talent, a positive employer brand is essential, but the NHS is facing a number of leadership issues. These include demoralised employees and difficulties in recruiting and retaining senior staff, leading to high levels of stress and absenteeism.

The CIPD gives one definition of leadership as ‘the capacity to influence people, by means of personal attributes and/or behaviours, to achieve a common goal’. This requires transparency and an open culture with a willingness to engage in conversations with employees.

Steps have been taken to successfully achieve this goal within some NHS trusts. The CIPD People Management Awards 2016 highlighted the successful strategies of the winner of its overall prize – Frimley Health NHS Foundation Trust. The Trust was awarded best employee engagement initiative for its campaign to improve patient safety and experience at Wexham Park Hospital. Organisational culture, performance management and employee behaviour were tackled using ‘HR led’ interventions, encompassing a variety of areas including leadership. In the process the hospital made a marked improvement; its CQC rating is now ‘outstanding’, compared to a previous rating of ‘inadequate’.

At the same awards, University College London Hospitals (UCLH) NHS Foundation Trust attained best recruitment and talent management initiative. In order to address high levels of staff turnover, the Trust became the first NHS employer to sign up to the National Living Wage in London. It also campaigned against plans that would have prevented the recruitment of Filipino nurses.

The NHS’s intention of creating an open culture also led to a formal policy on whistleblowing in May last year although The Telegraph reported in August that job applicants regarded as ‘whistleblowers’ were still being blacklisted.

The impact of AI

Artificial intelligence and automation have featured prominently in recruitment headlines, with up to 15 million jobs considered at risk but Deloitte ranks the UK’s human health and social work sector as the lowest risk for AI related job losses.

AI could in fact have a beneficial impact by relieving the pressure on health and social care. Middlesex University and the University of Bedfordshire are currently carrying out a £2 million project to develop robots with ‘cultural awareness’ and a ‘good bedside manner’ to care for older people in care homes or sheltered accommodation. The development of these Pepper robots is expected to take three years.

Effective HR led recruitment strategies

In the meantime, the NHS must continue to follow the example of Frimley Health and UCLH NHS Foundation trusts in creating initiatives to improve talent management strategies. The following three suggestions offer additional ways to improve recruitment and retention:-

Improve diversity : Improving diversity is essential for the NHS to address skills shortages, avoid accusations of bias and recruit from a broader talent pool. The use of anonymised CVs, combined with video interviewing during screening and a formal strategy to reduce unconscious bias should be incorporated into hiring. All candidates should be assessed against pre-determined key skills and performance criteria, regardless of race, gender or social background.

Extend flexible working : Timewise’s Power Part Time list released this week revealed that the number of shared senior level positions in the UK is now at its highest. Furthermore, almost half of business leaders would now consider this option for senior positions. Recruiting people into leadership roles has proved problematic for the NHS in recent years. Flexible working across all areas of the NHS can help to both attract and retain skilled members of leadership teams. Recruitment analytics provides insight into the extent of senior level roles which are shared, or those across the NHS which offer flexible working.

Support with HR technology : In the face of an ongoing staffing crisis, HR must create and drive efficient hiring processes, supported by HR technology. As well as reducing time consuming administration, recruitment software offers a number of advantages, including:-

  • Identification of applicants with business critical skills and fast tracks tagged candidates through screening.
  • Reassurance that your job posts are compliant.
  • Automates the key elements of essential background checks.
  • Provides vital data to enable the prediction of future hiring needs, bringing an end to the ‘boom and bust’ cyclical nature of healthcare recruitment.

Advorto works with NHS trusts to identify and resolve critical hiring issues, including:-

  • Sifting imported applications with full auditing to confirm relevant checks have been carried out, ready for inspection by the CQC.
  • Provision of flexible and cost-effective configuration to meet the requirements of frequent regulatory changes.
  • Importing candidates applying via NHS Jobs into a compatible system.
  • Provide an interface with the electronic staff register.
  • Facilitate rapid approval and posting of vacancies.

Contact us today to discuss how we can help your Trust to hire better people faster.

For an in-depth examination of the issues facing the NHS, our healthcare sector report is available to download here.

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