North London NHS bosses discuss local workforce challenges

Recruitment and retention of NHS staff remains a significant problem across local health services, reports Grace Howarth, Local Democracy Reporter

Hendon Town Hall and (inset) Sarah Morgan from NHS North Central London
Hendon Town Hall and (inset) Sarah Morgan from NHS North Central London

Challenges being faced across North London’s health services were discussed by local NHS bosses today (Monday 29th) – with a focus on improving recruitment and staff retention.

Sarah Morgan, chief people officer for NHS North Central London Integrated Care Board (NCL ICB), told councillors on a joint health overview and scrutiny committee that they were focusing on improving “very low” staff morale in the NHS and on appealing to young people since “less than 6% of NHS staff are under 25”.

NCL ICB is responsible for allocating local NHS budgets and commissioning services across Barnet, Camden, Enfield, Haringey and Islington boroughs.

At the committee meeting held at Hendon Town Hall, councillors heard that the NHS’s “key priorities” for its workforce plan were training, retention and reform.

Sarah said tackling retention involved improving staff health and wellbeing, equality diversity and inclusion, and leadership and talent. 

Care leavers were another focus. Sarah highlighted the advantage of being an integrated board and being partnered with local authorities. The care leavers pathfinder programme, which the NHS joined in 2022, focuses on supporting individuals with lived experience in the care system into careers in the NHS at the point of leaving care.

Sarah said mental health was an area where it was difficult to supply a large enough “qualified workforce” to meet demand. Despite issues with student pipelines to NHS careers, there were improvements this year in the mental health workforce as it had become an increasingly popular area of study.

She also said the integrated care system (ICS) in the NHS was trying to “glean” itself away from “international recruitment” in favour of “local supply”. She said as they grow the workforce they’ll need to monitor “new roles” formed as technology expands and added they had to make sure they were distributed nationally and that staff “supervision” was thorough across the sector.

Camden councillor Kemi Atolagbe asked about the progress in key areas of the workforce plan, particularly around equality, diversity and inclusion.

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Sarah listed commitments the organisation had made, starting with a pledge last July to become an “anti-racist” system. 

A lot of organisations are looking at targeting diversity at “leadership” level with more inclusive recruitment practices, creating “safe spaces” in organisations, and “career progression”. Sarah emphasised this was a trending issue among their ethnic minority staff, saying “people get stuck”. 

She said: “Retention and recruitment scores will start to show whether or not that’s been a success. I think the health and social care hub, which reaches out into communities, is a real asset. We’ve done an inclusivity audit at our eight trusts to see how good our recruitment  practices are.” 

Haringey councillor Matt White asked about workforce supply and issues around international recruitment. Sarah said they “relied quite heavily” on international recruitment, “particularly”  in the social care workforce. 

She said: “That has been the way we’ve managed it across all the boroughs.”

Sarah emphasised that this was being addressed as a “problem” given the expense and aim to employ locally, but they hadn’t seen it “bear out yet”. 

She added: “We don’t want to rely on international recruitment, it’s very expensive, the whole package around an individual can cost around £10,000 per person to do that kind of recruitment.”

Camden councillor Larraine Revah asked about the level of knowledge among staff when it came to dealing with “hidden disabilities” of patients. 

Sarah emphasised the Oliver McGowan mandatory training programme put in place following a case where a “young man [Oliver] died due to poor care in the NHS”. She said: “All care board staff have to go through an online training programme, and clinical staff working with patients on a day-to-day basis, have to do a full day out in the classroom.”

However, she said this training would be more “ideal” being administered at undergraduate level, rather than when staff were already in the workforce, and added there was a need to further integrate this training.

Sarah also said there was a pilot launching at Royal Free Hospital, in Camden, around supporting patients who were presenting these symptoms as well as supporting staff members in administering the appropriate care.  

Cllr Revah said patients in Camden used a “passport system” to help better communicate “hidden disabilities”. Sarah agreed it would benefit from implementing this across all boroughs.

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