Widening participation and innovation hold the key to overcoming our staffing challenges


According to figures from the Royal College of Nursing, one in ten new nursing posts in England remains unfilled.

Further figures from the Nursing and Midwifery Council shows that 25,000 nurses and midwives left the register last year. This is more than were trained in the same period, meaning it’s a net loss for the workforce as a whole.

As a workforce planner, I’ve consistently been told that we need more of a particular job role in the future.

I always caveat that by saying “if you can’t recruit the ones you need already, what makes you think you’re going to get any more in the future?”

When your workforce supply is trickling, do we cross our fingers and hope for the best? Or do you look at alternative strategies to solve the issue in the long-term?

In the past, we’ve tended to look to temporary, contingent labour to fill in the gaps, but this is not always the quick fix, easy solution it might first appear.

For one thing, it is very expensive and tends not to be very good from an outcomes perspective.

With overseas recruitment, there are the hoops associated with registering here and getting used to the UK health systems. What’s more, life tends to be a bit of a boomerang, it tends to bring you back to your roots.

I worked with lots of people in their twenties who returned home later on in life.

That being so, we need to look at alternative models of recruitment and career progression.

We need to widen participation by appealing the largest cross section of society. Not only does this help grow the workforce, but also, in my experience, the health service is much richer for doing so.

We don’t just want a nursing cohort to be filled with people like me when I entered the profession straight after finishing my a-levels.

One of my best friends when I trained to be a nurse was someone who had just turned 40.

I benefited massively having somebody like that being on the course. Because they brought different insights and life experience.

They came into nursing as a second career option having took time to start a family, before deciding that nursing was for them. We need to support people to do this at every step of the way.

We also need to think innovatively about how we support career progression and better people’s skillsets to fulfill service needs, rather than thinking rigidly in terms of the professions we already have.

Someone once said to me “as a nurse, why would you want to become a mini doctor?”

And my reply to that has always been, it’s not about being a mini doctor, it’s about being a maxi nurse.

Bringing through very highly qualified, skilled practitioners, who have demonstrated the requisite knowledge, skills and behaviours, but through a different route, can unlock massive potential in terms of service delivery.

Recently, I saw Blackpool Hospital up in Lancashire were trying to recruit a non-medical consultant level practitioner who would work in the trust’s emergency department.

Whilst that level of practice is not brand new in of itself, the difference here is that they want a non-medical consultant to sit on tier five consultant rotors.

Provided the appropriate safeguards are in place and there’s a governance framework that supports it, we need to welcome innovations like this.

About Skills for Health

Skills for Health is a not-for-profit organisation committed to the development of an improved and sustainable healthcare workforce across the UK. Established in 2002 as the Sector Skills Council for Health for the UK health sector, it is the authoritative voice on workforce skills issues and offers proven solutions and tools, with the expertise and experience to use them effectively.


Tam Whipp joins Skills for Health as a Technical Consultant 

Why the NHS Needs Workforce Planning More Than Ever 

Core Skills Training Framework® overview 

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