Exclusive: ‘Golden hellos’ could ease recruitment crisis, says peer

Shape of Caring review author Lord Willis says employers need to find ways to attract people to the profession and retain staff.

The author of an influential report into the future of nursing has called for ‘golden hello’ incentive payments to boost recruitment to the profession.

Lord Willis dismissed suggestions that employers could not afford golden hellos. Picture: John Houlihan

Lord Willis, who led the Shape of Caring review, said nursing was on the verge of a perfect storm in recruitment and retention, after new figures revealed nursing degree applicant numbers have fallen by almost a fifth in the past year.

The Liberal Democrat life peer told Nursing Standard it was time for employers to ‘step up to the mark’ and find ways of attracting people to the profession and retaining them.

Lord Willis said he was not surprised by the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS) figures released this week, which showed applicants to nursing degree courses in the UK have fallen by 19% in the past year.

‘Perfect storm’

‘There’s almost a perfect storm around nursing recruitment and retention at the moment with the problems of EU nursing, the significant differences between those entering the profession and those continuing on the register, and the ending of bursaries and the introduction of a fully fee loan system,’ he said.

‘What we need to do is say to employers “what are you doing to make it attractive to students coming into the profession?”. I think they should consider the value of golden hellos.’

Lord Willis said employers should be looking at bringing students ‘onto their books’, particularly those in their final year, making them part of their organisation so employers invest in them.

He dismissed suggestions that employers could not afford golden hellos, saying employers were spending a ‘premium’ on trips to the Philippines, Spain and Portugal to recruit nurses.

The UCAS data released this week show applicants who made at least one choice of a nursing course by the latest deadline fell from 65,620 in June 2016 to 53,010 in June this year.

Applications fell by 23% in England, 10% in Wales, 2% in Scotland and 6% in Northern Ireland, while applications from EU students were 400 down on last year (24%).

Promoting healthcare

The Council of Deans of Health (CoDH), which represents university nursing, midwifery and allied health faculties, said a campaign promoting healthcare careers was now ‘vital’.

Most applicants to nursing are aged over 19 and the UCAS figures show applicants from England in this age group decreased by between 14% and 27%.

CoDH executive director Katerina Kolyva said: ‘This, coupled with the reduction in nurses and midwives on the Nursing and Midwifery Council register and a significant fall in EU migration, means that a campaign to promote healthcare professions as rewarding careers with high employability and value to the public is now vital.’

Responding to the figures, RCN general secretary Janet Davies said: ‘The nursing shortage will get even worse unless ministers support people into training and scrap the cap on pay to keep experienced staff.’

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