23 July 2021

It won’t come as a surprise that vacancies within the NHS are high. There are currently over 100,000, and many jobs are being filled by agency staff. However, it might be more surprising that these vacancies are not just in poorly funded parts of the NHS. This highlights a continual struggle to fill roles generally, but matters have been exacerbated by the global pandemic.

With the spotlight placed on pay rises across the NHS, and an ongoing debate about whether staff are rewarded appropriately, how can the organisation recruit staff effectively?

There is some good news. With training programmes for nurses and doctors increasing, the pool of talent looks promising. In addition, the pandemic has galvanised an already strong brand that offers career paths to those who haven’t considered working for the NHS before. Nevertheless, the requirement not only to hire individuals to fill vacant roles, but also replace those who have decided to leave the NHS during the pandemic makes this increasingly urgent. Is it time to rethink how the NHS can attract and select staff?

When working with our NHS clients, we usually find they have a strong strategy and related goals on their people agenda. Although these are created to drive successful recruitment processes and identify ways to improve, evaluating these can often get missed. 

Some common themes surface in recruitment that are often overlooked:


With many roles in the NHS automated, this has provided an effective method of reaching people. However, adverts can often be biased towards English speakers and contain abbreviations and technical language that those outside the NHS don’t understand. The NHS has a great opportunity to draw talent, however consideration must be given to how job adverts are written so they have greater appeal


With high volumes and demands on time, successful recruitment must be efficient, fair and valid. This not only ensures that equal opportunities are addressed but promotes selection based on skills and behaviours required. For example, some selection processes may favour certain candidates over others, and individuals from two different backgrounds may approach situations in different ways, but does this indicate that one is better than the other and does this influence the decision to hire? Ensuring valid measures are in place to assess competence and behaviour, and remove bias, is critical. the Hiring managers should also evaluate their approach in each recruitment process as bad habits become more embedded if they are not challenged regularly.


The onboarding process is often overlooked but represents one of the biggest opportunities in retaining talent within the organisation. Although these two processes can be perceived as unrelated, when individuals leave organisations, they often cite reasons around expectations vs. reality. Many NHS organisations still find that people leave within six to 12 months. Providing realistic job previews and interaction with team members before the acceptance of a role is often a good measure of ‘fit’ and enhances engagement in the early stages. It gives employees more detail and a feel for how the role is carried out, rather than what the role is. Continual check ins with new recruits are often sacrificed due to time commitments but represent a big risk for managers in attaining buy in. Finding structure and committing to a three-month onboarding plan is a powerful tool to mitigate the risk of unexpected leavers. It is important to ensure that exit interviews are compulsory and aim to draw insights for improvement. This will help to influence future processes, learn from mistakes, and stress test approaches.

Despite a year of unprecedented pressure on the NHS, the sector has been able to adapt to demands. It now has a great opportunity to look forward and assess its people strategy to ensure it can continue to adapt. In addition to supporting our NHS clients by mitigating people risks through audit, our HR client services are enabling healthcare organisations to focus on priority areas such as culture, wellbeing, recruitment and retention.

If you would like to speak to us about some of your immediate challenges, then do get in touch with David Gibbens.