While the media is currently packed with accusations of ‘rip-off’ staffing companies profiteering from ‘excessive’ use of locum doctors and bank nurses, the root cause of this shift in use towards contract workers has largely avoided the front pages.

Retirement cliffs, visa restrictions and cuts in training places, coupled with an increase in demand for NHS services, mean that there is a chronic shortage of talent to fill permanent positions across the public sector.  

APSCo recently drafted an open letter to Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt, summarising the wider issues which have led to the current staffing crisis, and urging him to adopt a collaborative and consultative approach with the recruitment profession in solving it.

I have noticed that many of APSCo’s recommendations are textbook HR talent management and development strategies. So with this in mind, what can the NHS learn from HR in terms of strategic workforce planning?

Foster a favourable organisational culture

In 2013, just 20 per cent of medical students chose to work in general practice on completion of their foundation training. Reasons as to why fewer young professionals are choosing a career in general practice remain a topic of debate. However, it has been speculated that pressure of workload is a contributing factor.

Meanwhile, Zofia Bajorek, a researcher at the Work Foundation, reported in her PhD thesis on the management of temporary staff in healthcare emergency departments. She says would-be doctors and nurses were being put off from training due to the “culture of blame” surrounding the NHS. Surely it’s plain to see that in order to attract and retain the best talent, organisations must create an attractive working environment.

Review organisational strategy

Changes to the NHS’s organisational structure, namely the integration of health and social care, must be considered if the NHS is to build teams which are fit for purpose. Other factors, such as seven-day access to GPs and the rise of prescribing nurse practitioners must also be factored into any workforce planning strategy.

Identify future skills demands

A staggering 45% of the current nurses working in the NHS have the right to retire within the next five years, and GPs are being urged to come out of retirement to address the vast numbers of unfilled vacancies. This ‘retirement cliff’, coupled with an ageing population means that the NHS should already be considering how strategic workforce planning will address future demand.

Identify cyclical variables affecting HR

News that non-EU workers, who previously held ‘indefinite leave to remain’ visas, must now return home after six years if they do not meet the lower earning threshold, is just one example of a cyclical variable that must be considered when planning future workforces.    

Pipeline talent for the future

There is a clear correlation between the continued rise in the use of temporary nursing staff and the decrease (of 16% since 2010) in nursing training places – which are offered to students wishing to enter nursing – within the NHS. In order to ensure supply for the future, any organisation must lay the foundations by growing its own talent.

Although there is no quick fix for the NHS’s staffing crisis, by taking a leaf out of HR management’s book of best practice, there is no doubt that the NHS can put the wheels in motion to secure a more structurally organised tomorrow.