The fate of closing the NHS skills gap lies in streamlining the recruitment process

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By Alejandro Coca

This year has seen a focus on NHS shortfalls in terms of PPE and ventilators, with both having wreaked havoc early on in the pandemic. However, as the government, trusts and organisations have worked together to get these issues under control, a shortfall in staff now looms, threatening to derail the healthcare sector. Staff shortfalls in the NHS are expected to grow from over 100,000 in 2018 to almost 250,000 by 2030[1] – a startling amount by any standards. 

These workforce challenges have been widely reported for some time now, but the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has only served to bring the possible implications of staff shortages into frighteningly sharp focus. In addition, with Brexit imminently upon us, the NHS staff shortfall will only become exacerbated over the coming years unless drastic action is taken.  

So, the obvious question that is now beginning to be asked is: what can the NHS do to ensure that, in both the short and long-term, staff shortages are a thing of the past? 

For us at TrueProfile.io, the answer is quite simple; the recruitment process has to be streamlined and modernised. The current NHS recruitment process can take anywhere up to six months – a timeframe that the sector simply does not have right now. So, to ensure health and social care sectors have quick and easy access to medical professionals with relevant skills, they should be looking at what tools are at their disposal to streamline the typically overly-bureaucratic process and help them fill essential roles as quickly as possible.

Healthcare systems under pressure like never before 

Healthcare workforce shortages are likely to become particularly severe as the number of COVID-19 cases continue to multiply. Which means that our own NHS and many other formerly-functioning healthcare systems are very quickly becoming overwhelmed and understaffed as the coronavirus pandemic continues.

Not only do these staff shortages impact upon the quality of treatment and care on offer, they lengthen waiting times and only serve to increase the already-high levels of uncertainty in everyone’s lives. The reality is that the NHS’s increasingly visible lack of doctors, nurses and other key frontline staff is only set to worsen over the next decade, putting both access to treatments and quality of care at even more severe risks, unless urgent steps can be taken to close the skills gap. 

However, there is one glaring disconnect here. The NHS can and should be doing everything within its power to speedily recruit the best healthcare professionals from around the globe to address staff and skills shortages, yet the system is too often hampered by outdated and overly-bureaucratic processes in which, for example, professional documents and qualification checks take far longer and cost far more than is necessary.   

Clearly, verifying that candidates are who they say they are and that they do possess the skills, experience and credentials which they claim to do is a fundamentally important part of healthcare recruitment. But why should it take as long as it does, causing too many unnecessary skills gaps and staffing bottlenecks? 

Where does Brexit fit in? 

For obvious reasons, the COVID-19 pandemic has removed much of the focus away from Brexit and the potential long-term effects it will have on the UK’s health and social care sectors. Even when the COVID-19 pandemic is over, it will still be crucial for the NHS to take action to address its outdated recruitment process to minimise the effects of a further skills shortage deficit, potentially caused by Brexit.

So, when the time comes, NHS recruiters and healthcare regulators will be faced with a puzzling dilemma: how can the best medical and care talent from around the world be employed, while maintaining consistent, thorough authenticity checks on candidates’ professional and academic credentials?

Traditionally, verifying private documents such as passports or professional credentials such as degree certificates has been a lengthy, complex and costly process, particularly if when it comes to overseas applicants, recruiters do not have the required local knowledge and contacts. When adding language barriers to the mix, it is easy to see why many British hospitals and healthcare facilities struggle in their hunt for high quality overseas medical talent.

As such, in our post-Brexit world – and looking longer-term, beyond today’s urgent and immediate needs that are already stretching the system to its limits – the NHS simply has to streamline, speed up and modernise its recruitment process. 

The technology is out there ready and waiting 

Fortunately, there are a range of innovative technologies available that can offer recruiters and regulators the tools they need to streamline the recruitment process. For example, using blockchain-enabled professional document verification platforms, candidates will have the ability to securely upload and verify private documents, such as passports or university certificates. 

This all sounds really great, but what does it actually mean, in practice? 

It means that NHS recruiters and regulators across the UK are now able to efficiently and safely vet healthcare professionals from across the world faster and more securely than ever before. Previously, where it might have taken an organisation anything up to six months to verify an overseas candidate’s credentials, the latest blockchain-enabled online platforms remove those obstacles in one fell swoop.

In addition, other platforms offer a way to significantly reduce the time-to-hire of medical professionals by up to 20-30 days through giving NHS recruiters access to a bank of pre-screened and authenticated medical professionals who are ready to move to new roles.

And that’s exactly why these technologies are revolutionising healthcare recruitment right now. These state-of-the-art tools will allow NHS recruiters and healthcare regulators to efficiently and safely connect with verified healthcare professionals worldwide, screening and authenticating professional documents in a fraction of the time such tasks previously took them.

Securing the best healthcare professionals through innovative technologies 

COVID-19 has been stress-testing the world’s best healthcare systems to their absolute limit. However, a common myth that must be immediately debunked is that medical workers are not exempt from restrictions on freedoms of movements across national borders. This is simply untrue, and dangerous. 

The fact of the matter is that medical professionals are in fact exempt from restrictions when seeking new employment opportunities. As a result, there is still a golden opportunity for understaffed NHS hospitals and healthcare organisations to take steps to remedy any staff shortages. 

Crucially, they can only do this by seeking out the latest innovative and cost-efficient solutions and technologies. In turn, healthcare regulators and NHS recruiters will have the much-needed capacity to act quickly when it comes to securing the best medical talent to meet their immediate needs, from anywhere in the world.

Alejandro Coca is Co-Head of TrueProfile.io.

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