Hadrien Kieffer shares his views on the importance of innovation in international recruitment to support staffing levels in the NHS.
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Overseas staff have long played a hugely significant role in the NHS. Although they represent roughly 15 per cent of the hospital and community workforce, their collective value to the NHS is far higher.
At times of peak demand, their skills and experience on the front line can make a decisive difference, especially when there are shortages in domestic supply. Demand for international recruitment from the NHS has remained high in the past two years, despite the challenges of the pandemic.
For example, NHS Professionals International placed 1,000 overseas nurses in 2020-21 and continued to support the NHSE/I international recruitment programme with an additional 3,200 nurses in 2021-22. The number of trusts using our international services also increased from 15 to 33.
Speed of staff placement is key to successful international recruitment, especially during a pandemic. Switching from in-country recruitment to on-demand virtual interviews supports this and can allow more frequent appointments and higher interview-to-placement conversion rates.
We aim to continue this growth, while fully supporting the need to grow the domestic market. This year, for example, we are piloting expansions into midwifery, mental health and community nursing, in line with national integrated care objectives.
We are also exploring permitted markets under the new ethical code of practice for international recruitment. However, we continue to draw on established markets such as India and the Philippines to support the diversification of the UK workforce.
In addition, there are innovative pilots that build on traditional humanitarian resettlement with new career paths into the NHS for skilled healthcare workers. These provide a ‘win-win’ solution for both individuals and trusts. We are running pilot schemes to support the recruitment of displaced talent and refugees in Lebanon and Jordan. While the pilots are yet to be evaluated, feedback from trusts and candidates has been positive so far.
These new areas are exciting opportunities to make the healthcare workforce stronger, more diverse and more sustainable in an era of high operational pressures and service transformation. However, many of the new markets being explored lack ‘maturity’. For example, there may be a greater need for education around the English language and core screening and training requirements, even when candidates are otherwise high-performing. We are increasing our ability to ‘talent pool’ these candidates and stay connected with them as they work towards meeting NMC entry requirements.
High-quality pastoral care
While we expand, it’s important we continue to focus on retaining existing international staff so they stay with the NHS for the long-term, if they wish. High-quality pastoral care is essential, especially in light of the extra pressures brought on by the pandemic.
There is an added dimension to this with overseas staff. It’s true they will have passed tough English language exams and other competency assessments before arrival. Very often, they also come with significant clinical experience. For many, too, joining the NHS is a positive personal choice.
However, as a rule, coming to the UK is a big change and there is much to learn. We are sensitive to this and as a result, we provide a range of pre-arrival resources for candidates. These include interview preparation notes, detailed guidance on language assessment, financial support for relocation and pre-departure webinars about life and nursing in the UK. This better equips our international colleagues, from day one.
We also focus on the period immediately after landing in the UK, because that can be unnerving without support. We meet-and-greet our nurses, arrange safe and comfortable transfer to their trust and accommodation, organise food deliveries and welcome packs, and oversee welfare during any quarantine requirements.
Perhaps most importantly, we’re available 24 hours a day to answer queries or concerns, or just provide a listening ear, until the nurse’s local trust takes over any pastoral care needs. We also work collaboratively with trusts for the longer term, where appropriate, to ensure overseas staff integrate successfully into their new communities.
This holistic and consistent approach to the people we recruit is in our DNA and sets us apart from other temporary staff providers. It’s one reason why NHS Professionals International has become the market leader in overseas healthcare recruitment and now works closely with the DHSC and NHSE/I to increase nursing capacity in the NHS.
We look forward to continuing this growth, placing healthcare staff and the patients they serve at the centre of everything we do.