Recruitment in the age of austerity

The public sector is changing. Confronted by radical reform and spending cuts, managers are trying to maintain standards of service in the face of radical reform and far tougher spending settlements. There is no clearer example of this than in the healthcare sector, where implementation of wide scale reforms has to be balanced against the requirement to make £20 billion of efficiency savings. The NHS will need to be bold and innovative in its response to this problem, embracing different recruitment models to ensure that budget reductions do not mean cuts to service.    
The current budget settlement for the NHS suggests, for now at least, that the days of inflation-busting funding increases are over. When budgets are tight there is often a temptation to cut recruitment costs in order to save money. However this is often a false economy and puts the health service in a difficult position when it comes to resourcing, risking the effective supply of frontline staff.  
The NHS workforce stands at the cross roads, faced by the spectre of staffing cuts. It is important that they avoid arbitrarily slashing workforce budgets, treading the path towards flexible, innovative working practices.


If the healthcare industry is to deal with the increasing pressure to cut costs, flexible staffing will become increasingly important. Fortunately, managers are becoming more and more aware that full-time staff, such as doctors that work on standby, are not always the most cost effective option. In fact they can often prove more expensive, as trusts have to pay a fixed cost to retain staff, whereas locums are only paid as and when their work is required.  
Temporary staffing plays a crucial role in the industry and is part of the cost and resourcing solution. The NHS regularly use locum doctors to help managers cover planned and unplanned absences or provide support during peaks in demand. In short, locums guard against a drop in staff numbers leading to a decline in standards.  
However, it is wrong to assume that flexible staffing solutions should only be adopted in the context of declining budgets. Temporary workers help boost workplace productivity, channelling staff to deliver patient care, drive down waiting lists and fill important backroom functions. This is a particular problem in the NHS as staff sickness rates are high and productivity levels have only increased at half the rate of spending. Now that the funding tap is being turned off, boosting productivity must become a greater concern.

Whilst it encouraging that more and more managers are adopting flexible working practices, it is important to assess the most effective ways to manage this process.
The biggest risk in the recruitment process is not finding the right member of staff: spending large sums on advertising, staff time on short listing and interviewing, only to discover that no suitable candidates were available. In fact, studies from Hansard Canada estimate that, on average, employers spend 134.5 hours on recruiting per (permanent) position. When the cost of staff hours, vetting, checking and training candidates is taken into account, the average cost is £8,160 per appointment. In the age of austerity the NHS cannot afford to take this risk.
Healthcare professionals must look to the private sector, where companies are turning to recruitment agencies to deliver this process. CIPD surveys indicate that 78 per cent of staff are sourced through employment agencies. Why is this the case? What do recruitment agencies bring that in-house solutions do not?
Firstly, agencies take over the financial risks of the recruitment process, as they are only paid when a successful placement is made. That means that they are responsible for advertising, interviewing and finding candidates, ensuring that healthcare professionals can focus on the job they are paid to do. This is particularly pertinent in relation to the recruitment of management level staff, as surveys have found that 93 per cent of public sector workers believe a lack of effective leaders is the biggest challenge that they face. In the context of the abolition of PCTs and SHAs it is now critical that candidates with the required leadership and managerial qualities are identified in a quick, effective and cost effective way.   


Working closely with an REC-approved healthcare recruitment agency will not only make recruitment more efficient and easier, helping boost productivity throughout the recruitment process, it can also help to increase or decrease staffing resources (and therefore cost) according to demand.  
Employers can also benefit from long term workforce planning: if a healthcare agency is able to understand the sector’s resourcing needs, they can help manage the staffing process, helping employers navigate the peaks and troughs of demand.  
In the age of austerity it is important that healthcare managers carefully analyse the implications of slashing workforce spending.  Locum staff provide valuable support to guard against staff absence and demand, boosting workforce productivity. Recruitment Agencies must play a leading role in this process, applying their expertise so that the right staff are placed in the right position for the right price.  

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