Details of the long-delayed project to put NHS jobs in England online have emerged from the Department of Health (DH). A pilot electronic recruitment service is due in summer 2003 and a full-roll out is expected in late 2003 or early 2004.

Sites for NHS jobs in Wales and Scotland are already up and running but England has been struggling since August 2000 to put its recruitment online.

Now the DH says it has received tenders from four potential suppliers and promises employers a national branded “shop window” advertising posts 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

The first tendering process, initiated in 2000, narrowed 52 bids for the recruitment service down to a shortlist, but collapsed following a legal challenge from one of the disappointed bidders who argued that the tender should have gone into the OJEC.

The NHS currently spends millions of pounds on recruitment advertising in newspapers, professional journals and their associated websites but it is unclear whether the new online service is intended to replace all or part of this bill.

The estimated spending published in the original announcement of the site for England said advertising cost £30 million a year, but that was widely seen as an underestimate. Advertising has increased in recent years as extra staff recruitment has been needed to fulfil the NHS Plan.

Saving money in this area is controversial since many of the journals most prominently involved in recruitment advertising belong to the professional bodies for the clinical staff that the service is trying to attract, including the British Medical Association, the Royal College of Nursing and the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy.

They make a significant contribution to their organisations’ funds and smaller professional organisations in particular would be hard hit by any forced reduction in spending. The DH says in FAQs about the project that the new service will be free to employers until March 2005 though “ongoing funding arrangements have yet to be determined.”

In addition, some trusts have filled the vacuum by developing recruitment advertising functionality on their own sites. The DH says these will not be replaced. “The national service is intended to enhance local e-recruitment arrangements, to be an added layer of access to a wider field of candidates and jobs. The project team want to use the experience of colleagues running local jobsites in developing the national service, particularly around the application process.”

The DH announcement says that the NHS web site will link with local employers’ sites as “the recognised national entry point for information about jobs, education and training in the NHS.”

A separate procurement will also take place to re-tender for the existing NHS Careers web site and call centre service to provide a flexible, interactive service offering information on careers, jobs and training and enabling electronic applications for jobs and training.