NHS People Plan ignores total talent management

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Last week, the NHS published its interim People Plan, a report which sets out proposals for the future of the NHS workforce. Following the 10-year, Long Term Plan published in January, the report outlines some promising pledges, with the NHS asserting that it needs ‘to promote positive cultures, build a pipeline of compassionate and engaging leaders and make the NHS agile, inclusive and modern.’ Most importantly, it recognises that workforce planning needs to be at the centre of its overall strategy process going forward. However, something that could be equally effective, that is not mentioned in the report, is total talent management.

The report

The plan covers five key themes:

  • Making the NHS the best place to work.
  • Improving leadership culture
  • Addressing urgent workforce shortages in nursing
  • Delivering 21st century care
  • A new operating model for the workforce.

The acknowledgement that the staffing crisis, and particularly nursing shortages, are the most urgent challenge to the NHS is extremely encouraging, with the report stating that ‘we must act now to support and retain our existing nurses.’ Furthermore, increased support to those entering the profession, such as for junior doctors at the start of their careers, will likely help with the mental health epidemic in the service.

Finally, an acknowledgement that health workers want more flexible careers and that flexible working and other non-traditional working arrangements for all NHS staff will increase through “technology and a change in people practice” and the use of “in-house staff banks” will go a long way to boosting retention rates and job satisfaction.

While it’s promising to see the NHS consider such a wide range of solutions to the staffing crisis, and understanding that that there is no catch all solution, without a dedicated effort to implement total talent management, it’s likely that many of the structural problems causing the staffing crisis will remain.

Total talent management and wastefulness

Already popular in the private sector, total talent management is an emerging model of workforce management that integrates the management of permanent and contingent workforces. A dedicated application of this is something that could put an end to the millions of pounds wasted each year by the NHS through managing temporary and permanent staffing in entirely different departments.

Trusts are typically structured so that permanent recruitment managers sit separately from temporary staffing teams. While the latter has full autonomy to utilise agencies to plug gaps as necessary, the former often has no authority to work with external recruitment partners, meaning vacancies are regularly left unfilled, and have to be covered by temps. Inevitably, this inconsistent approach leads to huge wastefulness.

At Healthier, the following analysis revealed just how wasteful this approach is: Agency fees incurred when bringing on board a single Band 5 agency nurse typically sit at around £152 a week, even when working with recruiters which adhere to NHS Improvement Agenda for Change Agency Price Caps. This means that to fill such a role with temporary workers for 12 months would cost almost £8,000: enough to pay a permanent introduction fee four times over. If we extrapolate this figure to take into account the 37,917 advertised full-time equivalent nursing and midwife posts which were open at NHS Digital’s last count, then the health service could be squandering in excess of £300 million on temp agency fees

Urgent action needed

While it is encouraging to see that the NHS accepts ‘more of the same will not be enough’, urgent, action is needed to tackle the staffing crisis.  By introducing total talent management in harmony with the other proposals laid out in the People Plan, the NHS can begin to make large strides towards solving its workforce issues. The more engaged workers are, the more effective and productive they are, and ultimately, the higher quality of care they deliver to patients. Therefore, allowing departments to share their staffing strategies and work to a combined budget to complement one another is a no-brainer.

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