Recruiters highlight “perfect storm” for NHS staffing crisis
by Alan Little
Recruiters have responded to new findings from the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) showing that, for the first time in nine years, more nurses and midwives are walking away from the profession than entering it. A “perfect storm” has arisen, according to one recruiter: working conditions have become intensely stressful as a direct result of reductions in both EU and agency nurses caused by a tough new language test, pay caps and draconian new IR35 rules.
In the 12 months to March 2017, the number of nurses and midwives registering in the UK has tumbled by 1,783 to 690,773. The greatest decline has been among British professionals, many of whom have left their jobs citing stressful working conditions as their chief reason.
A stringent new English language test has made it considerably more difficult for recruiters to draft in overseas talent. Additionally, an aggressive crackdown on agency use, a prolonged public sector pay freeze and increasing workloads for existing staff are all feeding the NHS’s hiring woes.
Pay and conditions for nurses and midwives in the NHS are now “dreadful,” according to recruiter Barry Proctor, Group Managing Director at ttm Healthcare. Highlighting the fateful combination of a nursing shortage and an aging population requiring more care, Mr Proctor said bluntly that the NHS is “just not a great place to work.” He believes that morale is now at its worst ever, with people simply burning out and leaving.
The NHS, he said, has been pushing hard to reduce the use of agency staff, which includes experienced, professionally qualified nurses contracting through Umbrella Companies, and cut overtime use, both of which have not been helping to redress the staffing shortfall.
Olivia Spruce, Director at TFS Healthcare, commented: “Everyone is feeling this staffing crisis, which, unless we take a universal approach to dealing with it, will only deepen.”
Meanwhile, the CEO of HCL Workforce Solutions, Stephen Burke, urged the Government to “get a grip” on the parlous state of staffing in the NHS.
Even though nursing was added to the UK’s shortage occupation list in 2015, he noted, the NMC proceeded to compound matters the following year with the introduction of a new English language test, which has “strangled” the in-stream of high-quality nurses from both the European Union and other non-EU countries.
He went on: “Furthermore, recent Government interventions, in particular the introduction of aggressive agency rate caps and tax rules for the public sector altering NI and tax rates for agency nurses, have exacerbated the exit of nurses from the profession by impacting the flexibility agency work offered and seeking to eliminate, in the face of the basic laws of economics, the modest financial reward such flexibility attracts.”