spotlight on Welsh recruitment market

Published: 07/10/2004, Volume II4, No. 5926 Page 38 39

Despite spectacular scenery, shorter hours and a better quality of life, rural Wales has struggled to fill gaps in NHS staffing. Sally Mesner looks at what is being done to attract people to the workforce

Since the Welsh Assembly published its recruitment and retention strategy for the NHS in Wales in 2002, the nation's trusts have woken up to the fact that traditional methods of recruitment were not pulling in enough new staff. New approaches were needed.

'NHS recruitment budgets are quite small and there has been a specific underinvestment in Wales, ' says North Glamorgan trust director of human resources Anne Phillimore.

'There has been a reluctance in the past to bite into the costs involved in recruitment. But now there is a realisation that if we do not focus on recruitment we will not have the staff to give the care.

'We have exhausted all the normal routes, so We are going to have to ratchet it up a notch and become more innovative.We are starting to see if There is anything else we can do to tap the market.'

The trust is using an advertising and recruitment agency to come up with a campaign to advertise for nurses on local radio and TV programmes. It is also looking to entice Welsh staff in London and the South East to come back to their roots.

'In Wales, young people who have done their training quite often move away, ' says Ms Phillimore. 'But once they are married and have a family they might want to return to Wales for a better quality of life and to be near family.We are working on attracting those people back.'

A campaign to target people from outside Wales is also being launched. 'There is a specific perception problem of what it is like to live and work in Wales. In the south-east corner of Wales it is unlikely to be an issue - Cardiff and Swansea have quite cosmopolitan populations. But in North Glamorgan, which is at the top end of the Welsh Valleys, getting people here may be a problem. [But] when people are here they tend to stay.We have virtually no retention problem.'

The trust plans to use people who have made the move to Wales as part of its advertising campaign.

'We have found sending local clinical and HR staff to recruitment fairs to talk about what It is like to live in Wales very effective, ' says Ms Phillimore. 'As a small trust we try to sell what is unique to us and put as much of the personal touch in as possible.

'For example, we recently recruited a consultant from Italy as part of a Welsh Assembly initiative that invited doctors interested in working in Wales to come over to a recruitment fair.

We invested a lot of personal time to reassure him that he was making the right move.

'There were people available to answer his questions, take him around the area, and reassure him that he and his family could make the move successfully.

'They also talked to him about housing, education and sports facilities in the area. In the long run this kind of approach pays off in terms of retention.'

Another trust that has benefited from the personal touch is Pembrokeshire and Derwen, which targets people who responded to job advertisements by requesting application forms but who never applied for the job.

'People may not apply because they missed the closing date for the job or because they have a negative perception of what it is like to live in Wales, ' says HR director Janet Wilkinson.

'A personal phone call can allay those fears.We recently recruited a speech therapist in this way.'

The trust is tackling prejudice about Wales by emphasising the advantages: 'There is a lot of opportunity in a small trust like ours for people to influence policy on a regional and national level, ' says Ms Wilkinson.

'The advantage of a devolved government is that it is easier for people to effect change.We emphasise this to our applicants.'

For example, where many consultants are put off moving to Pembrokeshire because they fear professional isolation, the trust is developing links with bigger centres.

'We are trying to offer consultants more choice by arranging for them to work in one of the teaching hospitals in Swansea one day a week, ' says Ms Wilkinson.

'We have also recruited a senior nurse who works half her time in Pembrokeshire and half at the Swansea school of nursing.'

The trust has had considerable success in attracting senior managers to the area by emphasising the natural beauty of Pembrokeshire and the relaxed lifestyle the area affords.

'We have just recruited four senior managers who relocated from the South East and South West of England, ' says Wilkinson. 'All of them moved here because they wanted to make changes to their lifestyle.'

Bro Morgannwg trust is also emphasising the quality of life to be enjoyed by moving to Wales. In its advertisements for senior posts it flags up the benefits of living close to the coast and the Brecon Beacons as well as affordable housing and good schools.

Phil Spivey, deputy director of personnel, relocated from Huntingdon, Cambridgeshire, to Bridgend, after eight years working for English trusts. 'I have a much more relaxed way of life now, ' he says.

'The beach is a quarter of an hour away, I am close to the countryside and only 20 minutes from Cardiff. I try to highlight these benefits when advertising for senior roles.'

The trust is also using positive working practices to inform recruitment strategies.When it advertises for consultants it emphasises the benefits of the new Welsh consultant contracts, which are slightly different to English ones. The contracts allow consultants to receive commitment awards, which are paid every three years, and reduces the working week to 37.5 hours.

Pontypridd and Rhondda trust, through its First Steps pilot scheme, has come up with strategies for tapping into the market of professionals from outside the NHS.

The scheme was aimed at allied health professionals working for agencies, in private practice, or on career breaks. 'First Steps is a programme of six one-day sessions explaining the current NHS jargon and systems - things like audits, health and safety, and risk management - which aims to fill gaps in the knowledge of AHPs who haven't worked for the NHS for a while, ' says HR manager Liz Jenkins.

'They also spend a day in a department to see first hand what's changed in the NHS. They get a certificate from the Welsh Assembly and are then encouraged to apply for jobs in the NHS.'

The trust is also running an adaptation programme in partnership with Glamorgan University, aimed at upgrading foreign health qualifications to recognised British credentials.

The programme consists of three to six months of supervised practice, with participants gaining registration from the Nursing and Midwifery Council on completion of the course.

'We recruited 42 nurses from the Philippines three years ago, ' says Jenkins. 'When we recruit from overseas, people tend to bring their husbands and wives, many of whom are also medically trained but not registered to practice.

'We have had enquiries from all over the country from foreigners who have come over to Wales because their partners got jobs here.We encourage them to join the adaptation programme and to stay on at the trust once they are registered.

'We have 11 nurses in the programme at the moment and have started a similar thing for physiotherapists.'

Further information NHS Wales www. wales. nhs. uk

The Welsh NHS Confederation www. nhsconfed. org/Wales/