The nursing workforce is in the midst of a historic period of review and change. An ageing demographic, combined with a period of redesign in some services, will for all employers mean putting their equality and diversity policies centre stage to ensure they have the right workforce to deliver effective patient care.
One in five nurses on the UK’s professional register is aged 50 years or older. Over the next few years, the profession could lose many of its most experienced practitioners through retirement. In addition, as more and more nurses reach their middle years they are likely to have different requirements and attitudes to nursing work. Therefore, if employers are to continue to get the best from their workforce they will need to ensure their policies on age are equitable.
As well as the social and economic drivers of change, legislative measures are playing their own part too. In 2009 the government published its strategy to address the demographic changes and opportunities of an ageing society. Building a Strategy for All Ages outlines its vision for a future where people are not defined by age; this is supported by the Equality Bill which, in April of this year, became an act of Parliament, outlawing unjustified discrimination on the basis of age when providing goods and services.
‘Employers who understand the demographics of their workforce and address the associated risks can avoid loss in productivity as well as costly recruitment drives’
Over the last 18 months while the private sector has, in many areas, contracted in size due to the economy, the public sector has found itself in an attractive position, able to draw from a deeper pool of recruits. The tide is now changing and the public sector is faced with those same financial pressures but this is no reason to abandon the diversity work that has happened so far.
The NHS still needs to attract, employ and develop the best staff to meet the needs of a changing population and yet the nursing profession is expected to lose, through retirement, many of its most experienced practitioners over the next few years; in addition to this, there will be fewer school leavers entering the labour market.
In this increasingly competitive market for talent, staff retention becomes ever more vital; recruiting staff is a costly exercise for employers in terms of the time it takes to recruit and the organisational knowledge that departs when experienced and skilled staff leave.
Employers who understand the demographics of their own workforce and address the associated risks can make informed decisions and avoid any resulting loss in productivity as well as the expense of costly recruitment drives.
The need and desire to provide more community based care to more people alongside the need to cut waste from the system has led to employers looking to bring together several teams, develop new roles or develop new models of service delivery to support changes in the delivery of healthcare. The change in any service delivery model needs to be sustainable and employers need to ensure that they have taken into consideration how to maintain any of the developments that are introduced. To do this they will need demographic data.
Age profiling can help an organisation to make informed, evidence based decisions around its workforce and therefore also around its models of service delivery. To get started and to establish a baseline data set, employers need to know how many people are employed by age group or age band.
Alongside age data, employers also need to consider the working patterns, practices and the skills profile of their teams. Without this baseline data it will be very difficult to plan employment or service changes that are sustainable. NHS Employers has developed a range of tools and guidance for employers on how to do this systematically and how to undertake effective analysis. See the box for details on how to download these materials and other useful information.
Using the local age profile data collected employers can also see their own organisation’s potential retirement projection. In order to reduce the risk of expensive skill and knowledge gaps it is imperative that managers of services are fully aware of the flexibilities and options that can be used within the NHS Pension Scheme if needed. Retaining skilled staff - even if on a reduced hours basis or in a different role - can be critical to not only ensuring the continuation of services but also maintaining the motivation of other team members.
While we are still in the early days of a new government we already know that there is a commitment to protecting NHS budgets as well as phasing out the default retirement age. Still despite this the challenges facing employers should not be underestimated. By placing the management of diversity at the centre of the business planning process, real sustainable changes can be delivered while enhancing the quality of care for patients, reducing employer costs and establishing a strong reputation for the organisation.
Developing an Age Strategy: A Step by Step Guide
Connecting Diversity with Leadership
Human Rights and Human Resources in the NHS: Implications for the Workplace
NHS Pension Scheme flexibilities pack (coming soon)
To access these documents and for more details on the ageing workforce, as well as useful age profiling tools, visit www.nhsemployers.org
Caroline Waterfield is head of employment at NHS Employers