Health Reports

Simon Kent listens in on a Recruitment Live discussion addressing the healthcare sector

The Global Recruiter’s Recruitment Live round table last month took in the subject of the NHS and healthcare sector. Held in association with The Access Group this was a chance for recruiters from the sector to come together and give a clear insight into the frustrations and opportunities of working in one of the most challenging part of the public sector, an area where a sense of vocation among candidates is as important as monetary reward and where delivering a good service directly contributes to the health and wellbeing of the country. Attending the discussion were:

Oliver Jansen, Commercial Manager, Remedium Partners

Gwyneth Barrett, Head of Permanent Recruitment, HCLWorkforce

Carl Murphy, National Operations Manager – Meridian Health, Meridian Business Support

Andrew Turner, Solutions Director, Litmus Workforce Solutions

Lee Porter, Franchise & Business Development Manager, Match Options

Michelle Harris, BPsych. MSc. (mental health), Senior Recruitment Consultant, PSL

Chris Pritchard, Associate Director, Search Consultancy

Julieann Fouad, Sales Director, IMS People

Kevin Thomas, Product Direct, Recruitment, The Access Group

Simon Kent, Editor, The Global Recruiter

With strong demand for nurses and a diminishing talent pool it swiftly became clear that recruiters within the sector and for the NHS in particular are faced in a very tough working environment. With diverse experience around the table – NHS, private sector, recruiters, MSPs and suppliers – it became clear that compliance challenges, supplier frameworks and talent issue all figured largely in the bid to make recruitment work for the NHS and the wider sector.

Carl Murphy detailed how securing a nurse’s compliant status could take up to eight weeks in total and yet after those workers had been in position for 13 weeks they could be lost from his company and employed directly by the health organisation itself. Chris Pritchard suggested that working with the private sector often felt a lot easier in terms of compliance requirements, client relationships and meeting demand. Lee Porter added that many of their healthcare candidates preferred to work in the private sector rather than the NHS – due to the offer of better hours and conditions of employment.

All participants identified issues with the supply of nursing candidates. Both private and public sector are effectively ‘fishing in the same pond’ and there doesn’t seem to be enough investment being made in bringing new people into the profession. As Gwyneth Barrett notes, nursing in particular is a vocation rather than a straight forward job choice as compared with other career and job choices the pay and hours are less desirable.

International scale

Both Barretts’ and Michelle Harris’ organisations are looking overseas to bring in new talent to the supply chain, but even this isn’t an easy course of action. HCLWorkforce are looking to developing countries for talent, offering candidates the chance of taking their life in a new direction, working in the UK and sending money back home. This requires a great deal of investment by her company in identifying, qualifying and managing each candidate throughout their journey. Harris is looking to Australia for their talent, but changes in economic fortunes and immigration policy means this proposition no longer has the same attraction it once has. Overall it seems that the UK’s health system has
lost some kudos worldwide and is now a less attractive destination for healthcare professionals.

With the discussion taking place in the run up to the election, Johnson had yet to stake his claim to recruiting 50,000 more nurses to the NHS. However, around the table it was felt that some training and recruitment initiatives could be short-sighted as organisations seemed to think that by running a single initiative they could solve their staffing problem. There seems little appreciation that staffing and talent sourcing is an ongoing issue – it’s all very well to have a number of candidates lined up for today, but more talent will be required over the years to come: a one off campaign will not solve everything.

Even when the talent is available, the challenges continue. Lee Porter explained that despite his business being on the framework and therefore able to serve the NHS, and despite having nursing talent ready to go, franchise holders within his business were finding it very difficult to get through the door to offer their work to healthcare organisations. Too often NHS Trusts simply say that they’re already working with an agency and therefore don’t want to consider another. Faced with this resistance and less than attractive margins he felt that many of the consultants and franchisees at Match Options were preferring to address the private healthcare market rather than deal with the NHS. Despite the challenges, a number of potential ways forward were identified for recruiters to continue operating in the sector. Andrew Turner was not alone in suggesting that the key to a sustainable recruitment business in the sector was delivering by volume. Julieann Fouad suggested that some recruiters have successfully outsourced parts of their business in order to achieve efficiencies and cost reductions which can then enhance their position in the supply chain.

IR35 impact

The round table also discussed the impact of IR35 in the sector, revealing that in the run up to the changes in 2016 there had been a clear movement of nursing staffing away from PAYE. Some around the table felt there had been a definite impact when the public sector IR35 changes had been made, but there was less agreement that the forthcoming changes in the private sector would effectively ‘level the playing field’ and make it easier to recruit back into the public sector. In the face of these challenges and the strains which will undoubtedly continue, there was still a general feeling of positivity among the recruiters around the table. Just as healthcare workers have a sense of vocation, so too do recruiters – placing these candidates delivers a greater level of satisfaction for them than other sectors may.

Alongside this it would be wrong to characterise the sector and the NHS in particular as staid or not interested in new ideas when it comes to staffing and recruitment. Oliver Jansen noted that it was possible to work with Trusts to extend the work recruiters do beyond simply filling vacant places on shifts. Andrew Turner also noted that NHS organisations are data rich and keen to use this data in order to make their services more efficient and effective.

Ultimately, then this is a sector where recruiters are required, but are sometimes seen as a necessary evil. The attempts to structure and control the cost of recruitment among agencies have not always resulted in the best conditions for talent sourcing, yet recruiters can still exert some influence in the market, finding better ways to supply candidates and help the sector manage the talent they have.

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