International recruitment campaigns: Five steps to success

In what ways can recruiting healthcare organisations mitigate potential risks at both the recruitment stage and once the candidate has arrived?

The NHS Long-Term Plan was published in January 2019 setting out goals to provide a new service model to reduce rising inequalities and pressures within the system. This kickstarted the process of rethinking the healthcare workforce. Healthcare provision ultimately rests on its people, and the reality is that NHS frontline staff have been performing with increasing vacancies, coupled with increased demands. To carry on in this way is not sustainable and a different approach is needed.

Following its interim predecessor, the NHS People Plan 20/21 was published in July of this year. The plan sets out practical steps to improve workforce capability including looking after its people, creating a sense of belonging and new ways of working, as well as a drive to reduce vacancies. There are currently an estimated 50,000 vacancies in nursing alone.  

The need for international recruitment campaigns
Whilst domestic recruitment policies are highlighted in the plan, it is recognised that to fill this volume of vacancies international recruitment campaigns are necessary to help the NHS realise the vision of their Long-Term Plan.

Most hospital trusts who have used international recruitment in the past know that it can be fraught with difficulty. Thankfully there has never been as much help available to support your international recruitment campaigns as there is today.

Five steps to success
Successful campaigns begin by considering these five crucial questions:

1.What are you hoping to achieve, and can you collaborate with other trusts?

At first glance this might feel obvious: ‘I want to attract and retain staff from overseas’, but which staff groups, and by when? Band 5 nurses can be straightforward, but what about those more difficult groups, like mental health and community?

Collaborating with other trusts strengthens economies of scale, secures recruitment pipelines and aids retention. Would it be advantageous to work with other trusts either in your region as a system, or other peers in the same sector, for example, mental health?

2. What risks need to be considered?
As an international recruiter, you need to think about three groups of risk:  

Cost: international recruitment is costly, not just in terms of the candidate fee but also the costs associated with benefit packages, OCSE preparation and examination.

Candidate quality: gaining access to quality candidates at interview reduces the risk of drop out further down the process.

Retention: retaining workers is really important.

This article covers ways you can mitigate these risks at both the recruitment stage and once the candidate has arrived.

3. What countries can you source from?
Source country and ethical sourcing are important factors in any recruitment campaign. The UK government has published a list of countries where you should not run recruitment campaigns. The latest information on sourcing countries can be found on the NHS Employers website.

Traditionally the Philippines, India and UAE have been countries used by international recruiters, but the current Covid-19 pandemic has prompted the need to consider other avenues and diversify source countries.

4. How do you contract with an international recruitment supplier?
You have a choice of running your own tender or using an NHSEI approved framework, such as the NHS Workforce Alliance International Recruitment framework. This holds several advantages over local tender:

Track record: frameworks offer access to suppliers that have been accredited to uphold ethical practices, and have a proven track record in international recruitment.

Speed: frameworks offer direct award and further competition routes to market - both are quicker than local tender.

Competitive pricing: compared to non-framework routes.

Expert advice: experienced category teams are on hand to provide trusted help and support.

5.What can I do to retain our international staff?
This last consideration underpins all the others: the whole process is about the individual. Lots of effort goes into getting the process right - campaign, professional registrations and such - but you need to focus as much effort on supporting your new employees through the cultural differences of working in the NHS and living in the UK.

Think about how you would feel living and working in another country. What challenges might you face? What would help you settle? What are your career aspirations? What support is available in the local community? Are there local cultural, sport or hobby groups you can connect with?

Experience suggests that the difference between a new recruit staying one year or 20 years very often rests on the worker’s initial experience of arriving in the UK.

Help and support
There’s plenty of help you can call upon. The first point of reference for any prospective international recruiter should be the International Recruitment Toolkit published by NHS Employers, which contains practical advice and case studies.

Other sources of help include NHSEI and NHS framework category managers who can offer impartial advice based on experience.  And of course, your local NHS Workforce Alliance partner is on hand to provide trusted and expert support.