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Equitably managing the changing face of the nursing workforce 

The nursing workforce is in the midst of review and change. An ageing demographic and a period of redesign in some services means equality and diversity policies will be centre stage to ensure we have the right workforce to deliver effective patient care.

Caroline WaterfieldIn an article originally written for the Nursing Times, Caroline Waterfield, Deputy Head of Employment Services at NHS Employers, looks at the challenges employers face and highlights some of the tools available to help employers deal with them.



What are the drivers for change?

One in five nurses on the United Kingdom professional register is aged 50 years or older. Over the next few years, the profession could lose, through retirement, many of its most experienced practitioners. In addition as more nurses reach their middle years they are likely to have different requirements and attitudes to nursing work. If employers are to continue to get the best from their workforce they need to ensure their policies on age are equitable. 
As well as the social and economic drivers of change, legislative measures are playing their own part too. In 2009 the Government published its strategy to address the demographic changes and opportunities of an ageing society, Building a Strategy for All Ages’ outlining their vision for a future where people are not defined by age. This is supported by the Equality Bill which in April this year became an Act of Parliament, outlawing unjustified discrimination on the basis of age when providing goods and services.

Efficiency and managing diversity

Over the last 18 months whilst the private sector has, in many areas, contracted in size due to economic difficulties the public sector has found themselves in an attractive position, able to draw from a deeper pool of recruits. The tide is now changing and the public sector is faced with those same financial pressures, but this is no reason to abandon the diversity work progressed to date.

The NHS still needs to attract, employ and develop the best staff to meet the needs of a changing population and yet the nursing profession is expected to lose, through retirement, many of its most experienced practitioners over the next few years and there will also be  fewer school leavers entering the labour market.

In this increasingly competitive market for talent, staff retention becomes ever more vital as recruiting staff is a costly exercise for employers in terms of the time it takes to recruit and the organisational knowledge that departs when experienced and skilled staff leave.

Employers who understand the demographics of their own workforce and address the associated risks can make informed decisions and avoid any resulting loss in productivity and the expense of costly recruitment drives.

Current policy direction and how can age profiling help

The need and desire to provide more community based care to more people alongside the need to cut waste out of the system has led to employers looking to bring together several teams, develop new roles or develop new models of service delivery to support changes in healthcare delivery. The change in any service delivery model needs to be sustainable and employers need to ensure they have taken into consideration how any developments introduced can be maintained. To do this they will need demographic data.

Age profiling is a method that can help to make informed, evidence based decisions around your workforce and therefore models of service delivery. To get started and to establish a baseline data set, employers need to know how many people are employed by age group or age band.

Alongside age data employers also need to consider the working patterns, practices and the skills profile of their teams. Without this baseline data it will be very difficult to plan employment or service changes that are sustainable. NHS Employers has developed a range of tools and guidance for employers on how to do this systematically and undertake effective analysis.

These materials can be downloaded from our ageing workforce pages.

Using the local age profile data collected employers can also see their own organisations potential retirement projection.

To reduce the risk of expensive skill and knowledge gaps it is imperative that managers of services are fully aware of the flexibilities and options that can be utilised within the NHS Pension Scheme if needed. Retaining skilled staff on a reduced hours basis or in a different role can be critical in not only ensuring the continuation of services but also maintaining the motivation of other team members.

To find out more about the flexibilities in the NHS Pension Scheme, see our pension pages.

A positive outlook

While we are still very much in the early days of a new government we already know that there is a commitment to protecting NHS budgets  as well as phasing out the default retirement age.  Still despite this the challenges facing employers should not be underestimated. By placing the management of diversity at the centre of the business planning process, real sustainable changes can be delivered whilst enhancing the quality of care for patients, reducing employer costs and establishing a strong reputation for the organisation.

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Caroline Waterfield
0113 306 3051

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