It is time to act and seek solutions to the nursing shortage hitting private healthcare, says international recruitment specialist Robert Landor.
With healthcare severely impacted by the pandemic, independent practitioners in the UK have seen a surge in demand for their services, particularly from self-pay patients.
Around one-in-eight adults (13%) have paid for private medical care over the past year, according to a recent report from the Office on National Statistics. Of that number, 7% paid for treatment themselves, while 5% used private insurance.
A challenge is unfolding for independent health care providers. As findings in an Independent Healthcare Providers Network poll indicate, the growth in demand is set to continue.
One-in-five people expect to use private healthcare in the next year and nearly half the public say they would consider private healthcare if they needed treatment.
Yet, like the NHS in its struggle with a record high of almost 50,000 nursing vacancies, the private sector is experiencing mounting recruitment and retention problems of its own.
The impact of Covid-related staff shortages has compounded existing challenges and this has been further exacerbated by the rising cost of living and inflationary pressures on wages, leading to intensified competition for staff.
Prof Nadey Hakim
Nurses are in such short supply that, as Independent Practitioner Today reported, a ‘poaching war’ has left independent hospital bosses scrambling to keep posts filled.
Consultant general surgeon Prof Nadey Hakim sums up the situation: ‘There is a lack of good nurses all over the country. But it isn’t just about the numbers and filling posts: the quality of staff is incredibly important. The sector desperately needs someone who is going to bring in good-quality nurses in the required numbers.’
Prof Hakim has recently joined the board of my London-based international recruitment agency Trinity Healthcare to be part of a team dedicated to sourcing the right people. ‘We need hard working and efficient nurses to deliver the service we are after,’ he says.
Initiative, flexibility and positivity are all attributes he values highly. ‘A smiling face, a pleasant manner makes a big difference to both the doctor and patient.’
So where do we go to boost our workforce?
Like many countries, Britain looks abroad to bring in foreign-trained nurses to fill the gap. They represent 15% of the overall nursing workforce, with over 100,000 nurses coming from overseas.
Prior to Covid, they were largely recruited from EU countries. However, Brexit has significantly decreased the influx of EU nurses and prompted many to leave.
At the same time, a relaxation of immigration restrictions for nurses from outside the EU has resulted in international recruitment shifting away from Europe and towards Asia.
Countries like the Philippines and India have a long-standing tradition of nursing excellence and produce a large number of highly skilled and experienced nurses.
But there are good pools of trained nurses in other geographical regions such as the Middle East, the full potential of which has yet to be unlocked by the UK and other western countries. International connections with key healthcare partners in those places are vital.
Recruiting nurses from overseas is certainly the best short-term solution to addressing the nursing shortage. However, it must go hand in hand with efforts to increase levels of retention.
This is not as simple as offering more money and requires an understanding of the root causes of turnover.
Nurses and healthcare professionals across the board are now looking for benefits other than pay rises.
Increased opportunities for career development, training and education and improved working conditions are all important for overall job satisfaction.
Supporting nurses with adequate resources, technology, and mentorship programs will help improve retention rates. This is fundamental to achieving a sustainable solution to nurse shortages.
Ethics of recruiting from overseas
With many countries facing their own critical shortages, the ethics of recruiting overseas must also be considered. It is inevitable that the question of migration of skilled individuals will arise.
This is a multi-faceted problem not to be answered by simple binary responses to deny individuals the right to improve their living standards or to ignore the problems exacerbated in the country that they leave.
The World Health Organization has addressed the matter and published a Health Workforce Support and Safeguards List in 2020. The UK Government followed up with a Code of Practice for the international recruitment of health and social care personnel in 2021, updated in 2022.
This code defined ‘red’, ‘amber’ and ‘green’ lists of countries and the terms under which each classification would be subject to recruitment rules. The code also covers the expected and required support and induction of potential health and care employees and represents the reference under which my company operates.
Trinity Healthcare was established by a group of professionals with mixed backgrounds and expertise in the healthcare sector to address the UK’s severe nursing shortage.
Specialising in the recruitment of overseas healthcare professionals for public and private sector organisations across a wide range of specialties, the company has access to a large and diverse pool of international nurses. We recruit nurses primarily from the Middle East, Asia and Africa, the majority of whom are bilingual or trilingual.
Recruiting international nurses can be a challenging process and working with an agency like us helps employers overcome the hurdles involved.
We assist with sourcing candidates, verifying credentials, registration with UK bodies such as the Nursing and Midwifery Council and facilitating the visa application process, which can be complex and time-consuming.
Our knowledge of local laws and regulations can be helpful when it comes to navigating the visa application process and ensuring that all professional and legal requirements are met. We provide support for candidates throughout the recruitment process and can help with relocation, cultural orientation and other aspects of deployment in the UK.
Trinity Healthcare connects qualified healthcare professionals from the Middle East, Asia, Africa and Europe to jobs with public and private healthcare organisations in the UK, including hospitals, clinics, nursing homes and domiciliary care providers. As an ethical recruiter, we adhere to the Department of Health and Social Care Code of Practice for International Recruitment.
Robert Landor (right) is director of Trinity Healthcare