NHS in Recruitment Crisis

Hospital Ward IR35

It seems that the NHS cannot go a month without being threatened by pay cuts or organisational change. Just last month, Westminster proposed a new contract for junior doctors that could potentially reduce their pay by 40%. With a number of my largest clients being responsible for medical recruitment, I am only too aware of the difficulties these ‘pay squeezes’ are having on the recruitment and retention of NHS employees. Yet, I was not aware of how great the crisis was until I read the Smith Institute and UNISON report…

The report, aptly named ‘from pay squeeze to a staffing crisis’, surveyed 43 HR directors and managers from NHS Trusts and local authorities to provide an overview of what is happening in the sector right now. From the report it is apparent that the NHS is severely suffering from a lack of government support, so much so that 63% of respondents were ‘unsure’ whether they have enough employees to meet demand and the vast majority (85%) are finding it increasingly difficult to recruit.
It is an understatement that the ‘pay squeezes’ are having a negative impact on the NHS. In an attempt to address the recruitment crisis, 56% of respondents said they are planning to recruit employees from overseas and 89% stated they are using agency staff to meet employee shortages. However, the severity of the situation is seen most noticeably by the fact that 19% of respondents said they have to recruit people with less skills and experience than required. Surely this is putting patients at risk?

The NHS is on the brink of a HR crisis, yet instead of taking positive action, the government has pledged to restrain public sector pay increases to 1% until 2020. This is not helping matters and instead, encouraging more employees to move to the private sector where pay is expected to grow much faster. Not only is this leading to employee shortages, but the majority of trusts are experiencing a scarcity of skilled/ specialist and experienced employees. The government’s lack of investment in the NHS, especially in regards to training and workforce planning, means that skilled employees are being lost to the private sector and the trust is having to rely more and more on temporary workers, which is extremely costly – last year the NHS spent nearly £3.3billion on agency staff bills*. This solution is just not sustainable, yet it appears that agency workers are critical to the future of the NHS unless a solution to the ‘pay squeeze’ is found. For the NHS to overcome these obstacles the government seriously needs to look at how they can increase wages in line with the labour market average, whilst providing more investment for training and development, otherwise the skills shortage is only going to get worse.

So, how will this impact recruiters?
Medical recruiters should be aware of how bad the NHS staffing crisis is and where the NHS is looking to recruit to overcome their staffing shortages. With little incentive to join the NHS, it is going to be increasingly difficult for agencies to find appropriate workers with the right skills. Some trusts are beginning to offer benefits and rewards to help retain and recruit employees; however we are yet to see how successful this will be as the lure of the private sector is always going to outweigh the attractiveness of the NHS whilst these ‘pay squeezes’ are in place. Furthermore, the reliance on agency workers is not sustainable, especially with the government announcing a ‘crack down’ on agency work. If this happens, I am not sure how the NHS will survive and I am sure it will fall on recruiters even more to help overcome these challenges and fill the void left by these workers.
Source: PA Wire