Trusts should consider offering junior nursing staff affordable housing as an incentive to join the health service, an NHS leader has told Nursing Times.
It is one of the options that must be explored to help make the health service more attractive, especially for young people, according to the chief executive of NHS Employers, which represents trusts.
“These are things we need to do to be more attractive to the workforce”
Speaking to Nursing Times at the annual NHS Employers Workforce Summit for HR directors in Liverpool on Tuesday, Danny Mortimer said the workforce challenges and low unemployment levels meant the NHS needed to “up its game” in order to attract and retain staff.
He said that part of the plan could be to create extra affordable accommodation for NHS staff, as well as investing more in continuing professional development.
“It is a necessity for us to become a more attractive employer, and we need to think how, for example, the NHS can create more affordable accommodation for its workforce – the government can support that and we could work with housing authorities to achieve this,” he said.
“It could be part of a whole set of things we could do to become more attractive as an employer,” he said. “These are things we need to do to be more attractive to the workforce.”
“The NHS is also a poor employer of young people, and we need to make sure that changes, for example, by creating a career pathway for people who want to be a registered clinician,” said Mr Mortimer.
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He highlighted that the NHS was the biggest employer in “nearly every local region it works in, and yet it does not act like that”.
He noted that some trusts had “powerful brands” in their local communities, with good relationships with local employment services and schools.
In contrast, he said a lot of other trusts considered themselves a national employer and did not have “those routes into the community, and fail to recognise the opportunities that could bring”.
“I want us to keep talking to the unions and resolve our concerns through dialogue”
He added: “As we have the lowest level of unemployment in this country, we must now compete with other employers.”
Mr Mortimer acknowledged that the NHS had to be better at offering greater flexibility at work, and suggested trust chief nurses and HR directors were open to the idea.
“We are a much more flexible employer than when I joined the NHS,” he said. “And that flexibility for health and social care staff is in the Conservative [election] manifesto, so we are keen to see how that could be implemented.”
Speaking about the Royal College of Nursing’s recent position on the 1% pay rise cap, he said that unions were “faithfully reflecting” the views of their members.
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He said employers were telling him that they wanted to see an “easing” of the pay cap, but it must be funded and cannot take money from funding staff development or posts.
Referring to the recent junior doctors’ strike, Mr Mortimer said he hoped that he and the unions could keep talking, having seen what happened when a group of clinicians did choose to take industrial action.
“Striking is something nurses find very, very, very hard to contemplate,” he noted. “But that should not mean we do not recognise their concerns, and I want us to keep talking to the unions and resolve our concerns through dialogue.”
Turning to Brexit, he said there was appetite from the 27 European Union countries to get certainty about the rights of their citizens as employees in the UK, and it was a priority item on the agenda when negotiations started.
“Directors of nursing and managers want to be able to offer certainty to EU nationals who want to work over here, and they simply cannot offer it and still can’t 12 months on from the referendum result,” he said.
“It is a priority that we help employers plan and respond,” he said. “We know from our data that the public is in favour of migration if it supports staffing of the health and social care sector, so their response is slightly nuanced on this issue.”
The chief executive also said that the Cavendish Coalition – of which NHS Employers is a key member – would speak with “one voice” to represent the four UK countries to help the government understand the health and social care sector’s views on Brexit.
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Recruiting staff could be a struggle, even if guarantees were given to EU staff, he said, because of the weak pound. He also acknowledged that it might lead to overseas staff opting to migrate to Australia, Canada or the US to continue their nursing career.
Meanwhile, he described the Nursing and Midwifery Council’s recently revealed stock take of the International English Language Testing System (IELTS) test as “positive progress”.
The difficulty of the test has been blamed for both delaying and deterring an increasing number of overseas nurses from coming to work for the NHS.
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“We have talked about a test with greater clinical content,” he said. “But I can’t tell what the stock take will show us, we must wait and see.”
Mr Mortimer did, however, welcome the reappointment of Jeremy Hunt as health secretary following the general election.
“The fact that we have continuity with this health secretary and his team and are not starting anew is an advantage as he does understand the scale of the challenge we face,” he said.