A mental health trust in north London has launched a more “proactive” recruitment strategy by employing a greater number of nurses than it has vacancies for and targeting students earlier in their training.
The move, by Camden and Islington NHS Foundation Trust, is a bid to help tackle the “haemorrhaging” of its staff in recent years and to cope with the government’s newly-introduced caps on the use of agency workers by the NHS.
“We wanted an approach to recruitment that was proportionate in making sure we had safe practitioners”
The organisation’s director of nursing said the trust had decided not to ramp up international recruitment, and instead focus its efforts locally.
Contrary to widespread claims about a shortage of nurses, she said she believed there were in fact “sufficient” mental health nurses in the UK and that it was down to employers to use the “best systems and processes” to attract them into their organisations.
The recruitment strategy saw the trust approach students from the university it partners with earlier than usual, in February.
More than 50 students from Middlesex University were offered a job by April after they passed an assessment set by the trust and an interview – but those that did not were also offered a second chance to apply.
Director of nursing Claire Johnston said: “We weren’t saying you’ve got guaranteed employment. We were putting people through what I think was a fair process.”
She noted the trust was often familiar with the students and their abilities, due to clinical placements, adding: “We wanted to adopt an approach to recruitment that was proportionate in making sure we had safe practitioners.”
Trust recruits more staff than it has vacancies in bid to fill posts
This resulted in 60 newly-qualified nurses joining the trust this autumn, about 50% more than it would usually expect.
Meanwhile, the trust has also begun “over recruiting” nurses, by setting up its own “internal bank system” of around 20 nurses. They are given flexible but guaranteed hours to mirror agency work then placed in vacancies as they become available.
Ms Johnston said she thought some agencies would “struggle” under the government’s new financial caps, making it a “good time” to attract agency staff to join the trust’s internal bank. “We’ve got to be smart about matching the same kind of conditions and flexibility [offered by agencies],” she said.
To better retain staff, the trust has also set up a new programme of support for its newly-qualifieds in partnership with the university, which includes additional training and rotation across different parts of the service.
As a result of its new recruitment strategy - which has seen most newly qualifieds take up posts in its acute departments - the trust has seen its nurse vacancy rate fall from 27% in acute wards at the end of March to 9% by the end of September.
Its overall nurse vacancy rate, including community posts, has dropped from just under 30% at the end of March to now having more nurses than it planned for, bringing its total staff to 450 nurses.
Meanwhile, spending on all agency and bank staff across the trust has been falling – from around £1.1m per month by the end of March to £950,000 by the end of September.