Jodie Sinclair, Head of Employment, Pensions and Business Immigration at Bevan Brittan

It was a privilege to take part in a wide-ranging panel discussion at the recent NHS Partners Summit on the recruitment and retention challenges within the health and social care sector.

There is no doubt whatsoever that the pressures are real and telling for the hundreds of thousands of dedicated professionals that work in our health and care services. After all, we have an estimated 40,000 nursing shortage and 60% of doctor’s vacancies remain unfilled. Meanwhile, nearly 50% of care workers leave within a year of starting.

The focus on population health and prevention is needed and ongoing, but we have a growing ageing population with increasing health needs who should be able to expect that they will receive support and care from an appropriately trained and engaged workforce. With all of the pressures on services and the constant need to meet performance targets around waiting times, treatment and discharge, it is no surprise that working in health can be a challenge.

But despite all this, I believe that the workforce is one of the chief strengths of the NHS and related services. Many do their job for the love of it, rather than being motivated by money. They simply want to look after patients and help people get well. So there is a great reservoir of dedication to build on.

That’s why, in the absence of a magic wand to give big pay increases or dramatically change working conditions, I think there are nevertheless some tangible things that Trusts and other employers can do to boost the motivation and productivity of staff and keep that love of the job going.

If I had to sum it up in one sentence, the question that employers should be asking themselves is: “What can we do to make our staff happier, more engaged and more fulfilled?”

I believe there are three key areas that employers can work on to make a difference.

1. Culture and recognition

Recognition schemes aren’t new, but their benefit should not be understated. It’s about instilling a culture that shows that leadership do really understand their workforce's working days and value what they do; this has a positive knock-on effect on engagement and high levels of engagement are clearly linked to improved performance, reduced sickness levels and better patient care. An excellent example is the Leading with Compassion scheme that started in Shropshire and Staffordshire and has spread across the West Midlands. It’s about sharing and nominating colleagues for examples of compassionate leadership. It’s very simple and can have a wide ripple effect – by early this year, the scheme had had over 1500 nominations.

2. Go digital

Wherever possible, employers need to look for ways to shift the burden away from endless paperwork and form-filling to user friendly digital applications that make a working day less focused on administrative tasks and leave more time to be spent on patient care. Whether it’s through an app or just better electronic care planning or information sharing systems, these measures have real potential to make significant improvements to the working lives of health and social care staff.

One care planning digital provider reported a care home removed the use of 30,000 pieces of paper a month by moving to a digital system. Up to 50% of administrative tasks can be removed or streamlined through the better use of technology, according to some reports.

Effective electronic systems create a paper-lite environment whilst promoting more effective and reliable audit trails in managing risk – moving the ‘dark ages’ of papers in folders and files that can go missing or be mislaid to a much more user friendly and safe system.

Going digital can also make staff feel more of a ‘connect’ - rather than a disconnect - between work and their outside life. Twitter and social media regularly highlight the current frustrations with a workplace seemingly trapped in the last century so far as the most simple digital interventions are concerned, compared to the real world where apps and wearable tech are a part of everyday life.

3. Get social

Finally, linked to promotion of digital technology is the positive adoption of social media. Social media can be a great channel to spread good news about an organisation, highlight brilliant colleagues, drive interaction – and help with recruitment too.

Is your organisation advertising or promoting vacancies on LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter? If not, it’s about time it was given urgent consideration and organisations were braver as to the ways and means to engage their staff in promoting not only their organisation but also their chosen field of work.

Whilst a lot has been said about the risks of social media and the workplace, when used within the parameters of sensible guidance, it creates better engagement and can also bring more fun to the workplace.

These measures won’t solve the workforce issues that formed the basis of a fascinating discussion at the summit. But, working in combination, they can make a difference and put some of the fulfilment back into the sector that has the potential to offer careers which offer rewards that go far beyond the merely financial.


If you would like to discuss this topic in more detail please contact Jodie Sinclair.

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