In the first of a new series from the Professional Record Standards Body, Professor Bernard Crump explains why digitisation is ‘desperately’ needed in NHS recruitment.

As one of the largest employers globally, the NHS’s recruitment processes are, of necessity, robust, painstaking, and complex. However, they are also time consuming, resource intensive and costly. And in an increasingly competitive labour market where clinical and professional skills are at a premium, simplifying on-boarding processes is essential to running a safe and effective health and care system.

Ten years ago, innovative trusts started to digitise staff employment checks. In today’s NHS, which faces the most severe workforce challenges ever, it is essential that we harness the power of digital systems to streamline recruitment while retaining the safeguards built into the system.

Here’s why: a survey by the Nuffield Trust found that low staffing levels are one of the main reasons why nurses consider leaving the NHS. The NHS Shared Business Service estimates that attrition amongst nurses impacts both patient care and hospital finances.

A large acute NHS trust with over 3,000 nurses, will typically have a turnover rate of between 10-12% requiring them to recruit more than 300 new nurses annually. Replacing a fully trained nurse costs up to £12k, or £3.6m in total every year. Nationally, it would cost the NHS £50 million to recruit some 42,000 nurses annually. Recruitment needs to be done efficiently to help retain staff and resolve staff shortages.

People often mistakenly believe the NHS is a single employer; it is not. Each trust is a separate legal entity, and each employer must carry out all necessary recruitment processes.

Pre-employment checks

At a minimum, NHS employers must carry out six pre-employment checks to assure themselves that individuals are of good character and have the appropriate experience, qualifications, skills, and competencies to perform in any given role properly and safely. The checks include professional registration, qualifications, right to work, occupational health data and criminal records checks.

These checks apply to all appointments in the NHS, including people engaged in paid work on a fixed-term or zero-hours contract and temporary workers, such as locum doctors, those working as bank staff and workers supplied by an agency or other third-party contractor. The checks also apply to people undertaking unpaid work in the NHS such as volunteers, trainees, students, and those on work experience.

System suppliers have a key role to play in helping mitigate workforce challenges.
Workforce management platforms can support NHS managers to organise their employees’ information, recruitment, and rostering more efficiently and cost-effectively, at the click of a mouse, all in one place. The potential of such digital solutions can be further enhanced if all this data is stored and recorded in a standardised away.

Digital Staff Passport

The Professional Record Standards Body (PRSB) has been working with the NHS to develop a workforce standard that ensures all employment information could be contained in a single, national Digital Staff Passport, universally accepted as trustworthy by employers, held securely on a person’s mobile phone, and kept up to date.

The passport would support the Enabling Staff Movement programme by reducing duplicate form filling, and employment checks, and avoiding unnecessarily repetitive, time-wasting and costly mandatory training when staff move between employers.

The workforce standard is an important first step in creating a national, transferable NHS staff passport. It is desperately needed.

In future, its use could be expanded to include public health, primary care, social care, and the independent sector. Further ahead, the staff passport could also include details on pay, benefits, pensions, and performance.

The Digital Staff Passport, based on the national workforce standard, may not solve all the problems facing a highly pressurised NHS workforce, but its adoption would surely enhance timely and efficient recruitment. And that can’t be anything but good.

Bernard CrumpProfessor Bernard Crump, PRSB clinical advisor and Professor of Practice in Healthcare and Leadership at Warwick Business School.

Next month: transformation is a necessity.