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Recruitment and the Healthcare Sector – Overcoming Challenges in an Uncertain Future

Published: Tuesday 25th April 2017

Nurse giving her patient comfort whilst placing hand on shoulder

“The Chinese use two brush strokes to write the word ‘crisis.’ One brush stroke stands for danger; the other for opportunity. In a crisis, be aware of the danger – but recognize the opportunity.”JFK

The healthcare sector seems to be heading towards a ‘perfect storm’. With pressure on the NHS at an all-time high, NHS bursaries set to be scrapped in August this year, and Brexit on the horizon, recruitment in the healthcare sector has become more challenging than ever.

A shortage of healthcare professionals both in the public and private sectors means that existing staff are stressed and under too much pressure. This causes burn-out and leads to mistakes being made – which can, of course, be fatal in this sector.

Why is the healthcare industry struggling so much and what are the potential solutions to these ongoing problems? We look for some answers throughout this article.

The crisis in the healthcare sector

Last year, a survey by the Royal College of Nursing revealed that the number of unfilled nursing vacancies in London increased to 10,140 – a 3% rise. Nurses are the second most in-demand occupations, just after engineers and in April 2016, the number of nursing vacancies reached a total of 58,788 across the UK.

Statistics from the Royal College of Surgeons has revealed that over the period of 2016/17, a staggering 193,406 NHS patients were not receiving their treatment within the target waiting time of 18 weeks. Even more concerning is that these are the worst statistics since 2008.

There are several factors which have combined to cause the healthcare sector to reach breaking point. Firstly, we have an aging population and longer life expectancy, which means there is increasing demand for healthcare. This alone is enough to stretch the resources of both the NHS and the private healthcare sector.

A reduction in government funding means that there are less educational facilities for students looking to study nursing. There is still an interest, but budget constraints are significantly reducing the number for candidates looking to study nursing.

There is also a serious problem with retention in the healthcare sector. Those employed in this industry face many challenges, including low pay, lack of opportunities and too much pressure. Culture problems are also a significant problem in this industry. The overwhelming need to recruit often overrides the importance of hiring the right person, who is aligned with the culture and values of the organisation.

The healthcare industry has also failed on efficient succession planning. This means that despite large numbers of healthcare professionals reaching retirement age, there is no-one to fill their roles.

The Solutions

One thing is certain – and that is that there need to be drastic changes made in the healthcare sector to solve the issues with recruitment – and this is an urgent need. On the one hand, it may be that centralisation is necessary. It is thought that by delivering care within local communities, there would not only be less need for senior healthcare professionals but health care would also improve as a result. On the other hand, waiting times are likely to substantially increase. There is no clear-cut answer as to the effects of centralisation, but this ‘disruptive’ solution is one which has been widely publicised.

There needs to be a dramatic change within recruitment in the healthcare sector – at the moment it is extremely outdated. At best, recruiters are holding assessment days to bring healthcare professionals into the industry, but it is debatable as to how effective these really are. This process may result in the recruitment of a number of healthcare professionals lacking in either the desire or ability to deliver the level of care and skill required. However, the urgency to fill posts can lead to rash decision making when appointing candidates. Retention of staff is vital and all measures must be taken to ensure that staff is given the adequate training to carry out their role effectively and good conditions of employment.

At worse, there are no methods for recruitment, simply advertising broadly on as many websites as possible and waiting for applications. Recruitment methods need to change as a result. They need to be updated and more aggressive. Healthcare recruiters need to be much more pro-active by using social media and other sources to get out there and find these people and entice them to join. The healthcare industry needs to become a more attractive prospect for trained professionals and it is the job of recruiters to get out there and promote it.

Expectations are changing within the healthcare industry and patients are expecting different things. Healthcare providers – indeed, society in general – need to be much more focused on improving health and wellness, instead of just dealing with illnesses. This is what patients want and the current model doesn’t fit with these expectations. Improved education and training locally may offer a solution and this is something which was significant throughout the Department of Health’s recent consultation on education and training.

Succession planning is vital for successful recruitment in the healthcare sector. Healthcare providers need to be prepared for those professionals approaching retirement age and have resources ready to fill the gap. This is one of the main flaws in the healthcare sector and one which needs to be fixed quickly if the industry is going to survive the current challenges.

We may need to look at the prospect of hiring volunteer carers to fill the ever-increasing skills gaps. This is only likely to be a short-term solution, but at least it would help to alleviate the strain until more effective measures can be achieved

Recruitment in the healthcare system is becoming increasingly difficult and recruiters need to be prepared – and to see the opportunities these challenges might offer. What would you say is the most difficult aspect of recruiting into the healthcare sector? Have you noticed any significant changes in this sector over the last few months or years? Are you confident you can ride the storm? Join our LinkedIn group and join the discussion.

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