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Recruiting and retaining nurses: what's going wrong?


Why are healthcare services struggling to recruit nurses? Ishbel Straker believes the answer lies in the culture of the service

Recruiting nurses has become one of the most difficult tasks for healthcare services. According to the NMC, this is due to cuts in the number of training places leading to too few nurses qualifying.

Tabloids have been filled with headlines of Britain’s need to recruit overseas nurses and statistically 1 in 4 nurses have been recruited from overseas.

But this doesn’t appear to be the solution, we’ve heard stories about hospitals spending thousands of pounds on trips abroad to recruit nurses, only to have 50% of these nurses leave within a year. 

Part of me can’t help but wonder: shouldn’t we make our services more appealing to the underpinning values of a nurse? 

“Shouldn’t we make our services more appealing to the underpinning values of a nurse? ”

If the pay scales are competitive, the clinical governance structures effective, staffing structures progressive, a preceptorship offered alongside further learning, revalidation and CPD protocols are active, and patient centred care is at the heart and soul of the ethos of the service, then why is recruiting at least qualified, progressional nurses so difficult? 

If the above structures are not in place or effectively driven by the right people I can see this leaving clinicians feeling vulnerable. 

A survey from one of the largest American recruitment companies stated that hospitals and clinics known for their quality healthcare services and advancement in treatment appeal to a broad cross section of nursing candidates.

So is this a clear pointer for all services to entice professionals? Of course! 

“A nurse needs to begin their career with the enthusiasm they had as students”

A nurse needs to enter into their career feeling supported and safe, they need to work with a team who are conscientious and working with the protocols set before them.

A nurse needs to begin their career with the enthusiasm they had as students, reflecting on their practice and being patient focused, but they need space from their employer to do this. 

A nurse needs to have room to grow, to become passionate advocates of their area of nursing.

Employers need to respond to this growth with acknowledgement and encourage through training and career progression. 

A nurse needs to see that their employers understand and revere to their governing body. To not have to explain their limitations and accountability, to work in accordance with the code and be supported to do this. 

And finally a nurse needs to be able to care for those that they gave their blood sweat and tears for, the patients.

When I say these things, I am by no means saying that services don’t have these structures in place, I am simply highlighting the needs of a nurse.

I have worked within a plethora of services each one unique and each one with some or all of the above and this is where I draw my conclusion. The services with these aspects in place not only recruited, but also retained good quality, patient centred nurses who became the mentors of the next nursing generation.

Meeting nurses’ needs will begin the drive of services back to the road of recruitment. 

Ishbel Straker is a consultant nurse


Readers' comments (6)

  • If the prevailing media discourse is about the NHS being a failing institution and clinicians, of all kinds, either being the grasping self-interested or the uncaring over-educated, it's hardly surprising that it's hard to recruit. The lack of public understanding of the role and function of today's nurses is a dangerous contributing factor to this situation that needs to be addressed.

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  • Present training does not prepare you for what you will have to do as a qualified nurse in my opinion. I trained in the 80's and during my training you were expected to "muck in" you were part of the staff numbers. You took "charge" on several occasions. These days it seems to be all about the theory behind it all. I know of two people who with in a few months of qualifying were accessing the well being service. I spoke to someone the other day who worked on one of the mental health wards. he told me it was terrible with newly qualified nurses leaving because the job was too stressfull and not what they thought it would be like. In short we are not preparing student nurses properly for the rigours and stresses of the job. That is with out taking into consideration low pay,unpaid overtime low staffing levels

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  • treating staff with respect would be a good start.

    Ex NHS

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  • Students nurses spend 50% of their course working in practice; 2,300 hours are required to register with NMC. Students may be supernumery to facilitate learning opportunities but they are also keen to be part of the team.
    Rather than focusing on recruitment focus on retention- why are staff leaving? why are students leaving?
    Stress, lack of support, staffing levels all play a part....

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  • I know of two newly qualified nurses who the day after they got their results left the country to go travelling the world. Neither had any intention of becoming a nurse any time soon. I think they saw it as a degree that was obtained without the massive debt (current estimates for new students is £54k) incurred by doing other courses at university. After all how many graduates outside of nursing actually work in the job the got the degree for?

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  • I qualified in 2014 and am not going to be able to revalidate. I have never been able to shake the anxiety which plagued me through training which kept whispering this is not a supportive career generally. I also find it very bitchy. I only did one shift as a qualified nurse.

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