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29th June 2015

Specialist Nurses: As Rare as Hen’s Teeth?

Are you experiencing a specialist nurse shortage

Recent efforts to recruit nurses have highlighted a problem with supply.

It’s becoming a proper chore these days, getting hold of the right staff for your service. As a manager of a number of care establishments, I am all too aware that it’s never as easy as a call to the Job Centre or an ad in the free paper. Colleagues have been finding more direct routes to source candidates, including job fairs, recruitment agencies and targeted websites.

As another of our specialist nurses announced her anticipated baby, we heaved a collective sigh of despair, knowing that we were about to embark on a depressing mission to find a replacement. We already have two vacancies in a team that should be eight strong, with constant web advertising and a running vacancy card in the windows of local businesses, a banner across the gates and a rapidly growing relationship with Merle at the Job Centre.

Where have all the nurses gone?

So why? Why can we not attract choice candidates to our jobs? I met with a manager of the NHS community nursing team this week and wailed about this to her over tea and paperwork. Turns out that it’s not just us. It’s a big problem across the UK: there are not enough nurses.

I was further reassured that it was not just me by the news this week that, according to official statistics, learning disability services in the NHS across the UK have lost 21% (1634) of nursing posts since 2010. The NHS Workforce Survey in 2014 published figures that showed 46% of registered nurses to be over 45 years of age. This means that in 10-15 years, that almost half of today’s nursing workforce will be retiring.

Although there has been a small rise in student nurse places offered in 2014/15, there has been a gradual decline in the numbers of students over the ten years up to 2013. In the austerity years around 2008/2009, trusts underestimated the number of nurses needed, and commissioned fewer places. The consequence of all of this is that there will be fewer nurses with experience to go around, whilst older nurses will be moving in to retirement. Not a jolly prospect.

State provider exodus?

If the NHS is losing nurse posts, then what hope for the rest of us? I have had experience of having courted third year student nurses in an attempt to get them into posts on qualifying, only to have them scooped up by the local NHS employers from under my nose. The pension and network opportunities prove hard to resist, you see. Even with a pay freeze for NHS nurses since 2009, independent employers cannot compete with the public sector on pensions, training opportunities and employment benefits.

Alternative solutions to a staffing shortage

We have to be inventive and look for ways to make our posts attractive to candidates. The opportunity has arisen for us to work with another third sector provider to offer our nurses secondment opportunities and a chance to learn additional skills. This type of innovation keeps them fresh and improves retention – variety being the spice of life in many cases. We also spend heavily on clinical supervision, preceptorship and training to help inspire and inform our staff.

As a small scale employer of nurses, we will never be able to compete in terms of development opportunities and there is simply nowhere to go with regard to a career pathway. This is why we lose the good ones to other jobs after a few years. By joining forces with other similar providers, we can perhaps benefit from a wider pool of expertise and enable a rotation of staff between services.

Today my colleague offered posts to two newly qualified nurses, knowing of the resources she would need to invest to get them to a stage where they were autonomous and competent practitioners. We have to work the creative solutions to keep our staff numbers up, sometimes we win and sometimes we lose. We don’t have any choice but to keep searching for the answers to the problem of nurse drought.

Ginny Tyler – QCS Expert Learning Disabilities Contributor

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